This month at 100Ninjas we are exploring the idea of Integrity…

Every day, the principal at my son’s school makes a habit of saying “have a nice day” to students as they leave the building. Many students may smile back, but most do not feel compelled to reply to her words. At my son’s 8th grade graduation, I was very moved by the words the principal shared. Especially touching was when she singled out my son as one of three students who consistently replied back to her, throughout the year, every day, every time. There was no peer pressure, there was no one coaxing him to be polite, he merely felt that responding to someone wishing him well was the right thing to do.

Doing what is right when no one is watching, and there is nothing tangible to be gained, is the heart of integrity. In a famous quote in To Kill A Mockingbird a wise character says of Atticus Finch that he is “…the same in his house as he is on public streets.” By this she means that Atticus lives by a code of moral conduct that he adheres to because of his personal integrity and not because of what other people think. His consistency is what makes people trust him.
One of the definitions of integrity is “soundness,” as in “an unimpaired, perfect condition.” The saying “sound as a bell” means that the bell is so well cast, that no matter where you strike it, it sounds the same clear note. When a person has integrity, people can trust that individual to respond to any circumstances, anywhere, any time, with behavior based on the same moral code. Their values and principles form the foundation of who they are, and guide how they will act, even in challenging situations.

This is why integrity is such a vital part of being a leader. Leadership requires the “practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values,” the definition of integrity. When a leader is trusted by his own employees to adhere strongly to these values, only then is it possible to create a culture of honesty and good faith behavior that can then be counted on by those beyond their business walls.

In business as in all realms of life we are often tempted to compromise for the sake of expediency, or short term gain and stray from our values when that path seems easier and more rewarding. Even actions that may seem insignificant have the power to create a ripple-effect that can deeply influence the culture of an institution. If as leaders we are disciplined in our practice of integrity in our daily routine, we will be better equipped to stay on the path of strict adherence to our principles and values during challenging times and thus assure the ethical values and culture of our organizations.