Sometimes a concept comes across your field of vision and sticks there. Everywhere you go, the same idea comes up time and time again and you just have to sit up and take notice.
For the last few years I have talked and written at some length about trust and the importance of developing trusted relationships with people in your network. In recent months I have been keenly aware of the vital role that authenticity plays in building those trusted relationships.
Over the last few days another principle, intimately related to trust and authenticity, has come to the fore. I attended a three day Landmark Forum program over the weekend where the importance of integrity was emphasised time and time and time again. Every time we came back from a break and delegates were even a couple of minutes late, we were presented with more thoughts about the importance of integrity in your life and in everything you do.
Then last night I hosted an event at Eight Members Club in Moorgate, London. I had invited a panel of business leaders to discuss what business in the UK could and should expect from the new Government. Inevitably the conversation turned to perceptions of the activities of bankers and large organisations over recent years and the lack of trust between the public and many of these institutions.
Marianne Abib-Pech, author of Financial Times Guide to Leadership, said "Without trust, you have no business. When you have no trust, there is no business anymore." As the conversation developed, the focus shifted from trust to integrity.
In her book, Marianne said, "Without proper values, leadership may become meaningless - even harmful. Leaders have an impact on the lives and incomes of thousands and with this comes responsibility. Leaders set the tone of their organisations and act as examples and role models. If they do not, they may put businesses at risk."
What is Integrity?
With such high stakes, integrity is clearly more than just a concept. It has tangible value in and impact on business and the link between integrity and values is clear. I have asked a number of people in my network today just what integrity means to them.
David McQueen of Narratively, said to me, "For me it's aligning what I do with my values. And in essence expecting the same from those I work with", while Vanessa Vallely, founder of We Are the City, simply said, "Staying true to your values".
Jo Simpson, author of The Restless Executive and an expert on core values explained to me "I had integrity as a value but then it evolved and emerged into Truth for me. The dictionary states that it is 'honouring all of your values', so it's an overarching one. Doing what you say you will do comes into it but this gets you in knots too, because it's alright you having it but you can't enforce or expect it of others".
So David expects it from the people he works with while Jo says that you can't do so. Who is right?
At my old school, Colfes in South East London, integrity features heavily in a presentation on leadership to the students. Russell Joyce, the Development Director, told me, "It's listed as one of the British Army's key leadership qualities. It's essentially the measure of a man and embodies trust, honesty and being able to rely on someone to do the right thing."
I understand where David and Russell are coming from. We look to work with people who display integrity because that's the foundation on which we know we can trust them. What is not in our hands, however, is any way to provoke or demand that integrity. All we can focus on is our own and hope to both lead by example and attract like-minded people. Alan Stevens, the media coach and journalist put it well when he described integrity as, "Exemplifying the behaviour you expect from others".
Taking responsibility for our own actions lies at the centre of integrity. Retired District Judge at London's Hammersmith Drugs Court, Justin Phillips, says, "Integrity is about being truthful, admitting when you are wrong and apologising. Never taking advantage of others and helping those less fortunate than yourself."
The Five Rules of Integrity
So, how do you take these ideas and this 'concept' of integrity and turn them into something practical you can apply in your life? I believe these 'Five Rules of Integrity' will help you do exactly that and make a positive impact on everyone you meet.
1 - When you make a commitment to somebody else, stick to it. If, for any reason, you can't deliver as promised, keep them informed and updated. Don't wait for them to chase you. If you let it drop, pick it up and apologise, however embarrassed that makes you feel and make it right.
2 - When you make a commitment to yourself, stick to it. If you hit a bump in the road, revisit that commitment and remind yourself why you made it and why it was important to you.
3 - Don't make a commitment if you don't mean it , if it doesn't align with your values or if you haven't fully bought in to your reasons for doing so. Don't just say 'yes' to be polite.
4 - Communicate your commitments. Reaffirm what you have said you will achieve by telling other people, whether stakeholders in what you said you will do or, if the commitment is to yourself, people who you know will hold you accountable and keep you honest.
5 - Review your commitments regularly to make sure that they are still relevant, aligned to your core values and that you are still focused on meeting them.
The Value of Integrity
The reason why integrity came up as people came in late from every break became clear at the end of the course this weekend. As we reached the conclusion of three intensive days, the 180 delegates made clear commitments to themselves and each other to make significant changes in their lives and their relationships.
But such commitments are wafer thin and easy to break when they've been arrived at over the course of one weekend, however intensive. One setback 24 hours later and I found myself wobbling. But then I turned to the commitment I had made to myself, and the importance of my own integrity, and got myself back on track quickly. I also reached out to other people from the course, shared my challenge and asked them to keep me honest.
Russell Joyce said to me, "I think it's the quality that makes you think twice before doing something". That's perfect. All that I can add to that, is that it's also the quality that makes you think twice before failing to do something.
"The point never to lose sight of, is to be guided by the correct thing, as you see it. It's the only way to approach such profound matters and retain your integrity."
Charles Kennedy - a politician of real integrity. RIP
*Bob Marley quote uncovered at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/integrity.html#780K0fTqjI0rbEx6.99
Charles Kennedy quote from http://www.theweek.co.uk/63844/charles-kennedy-memorable-quotes-from-a-human-politician#ixzz3buFe9HgP