In a previous post, I wrote that qualities of character in the CEO were a more important indicator of business success than the business model. In this, and the next few posts, I’m going to share those qualities that I believe mark a great business leader.
First, a disclaimer. This is one person’s point of view. This is not the result of some study that surveyed 10,000 business owners. Instead, it is the result of my personal, anecdotal experience. I’ve spoken to and with thousands of business executives in the US and other countries, and personally and contractually worked with over 459 of them. I have, I believe, achieved a breadth of experience in the world of business that, coupled with a touch of wisdom, has a validity of its own.
With that disclaimer behind us, let’s tackle the subject.
Previously, I argued for these character traits: An unquenchable work ethic, an ability and propensity to learn, a continuous quest for MORE, and unwavering self-control. To that list I’m adding integrity.
Integrity is often misunderstood. Many people consider it synonymous with honesty. While honesty is a component of integrity, it’s much narrower and finds its definition almost exclusively in communications with other people. One is honest with others and to other people. Integrity is larger and encompasses more of life.
Here’s the definition for the Oxford Dictionary: integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
While we all understand honesty, it is the ‘adherence to moral and ethical principles’ that draws our attention. You cannot claim to have integrity unless you have a set of moral and ethical principles to which you adhere. Notice that there are two parts to this. First, you must have a set of moral or ethical principles. Then, it’s not enough to have them, you must consistently act on them.
Integrity resides in people in degrees. One person can have more integrity than another, and evidence it more at one time in his life than another. When we talk about integrity as a character trait for business executives, we’re referring to the highest degrees of integrity.
It’s a rare and precious virtue. Most people don’t have it in any great degree. The world is full of people who lack a robust set of ethical principles. And, many of those who have morals often lack the will power to adhere to them
Think of a scale, on which everyone in the world is rated according to their ‘Adherence to more and ethical principles.’ One of the axis measure the degree to which someone has a defined set of ethics and moral principles. The other measures the degree to which people evidence the discipline to stick to them.
On the lower end of the scale are those who have no morals and no discipline. They are often known as criminals. Next up are those who have one or two principles that they will not violate. For example, they may look askance on the idea of taking someone else’s life, but have no problem falsifying income tax returns.
Some people have the principles, but stumble on the “adherence” issue. They don’t have the strength of will (see my article on self-control) to stick to their principles when it gets a little tough. This person may value sobriety, for example, but finds it impossible not to over indulge when in a group of friends so inclined. We often think of them as hypocrites. Those on the upper left section have the discipline to follow through, but no real moral compass. We often call them sociopaths.