“If you have integrity you don’t even need the rules.”
In a recent column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Editor Bert Roughton pointed to the citizenry’s low levels of trust in leaders of government, business, non-profits, and the media, and in the institutions themselves.
For instance, the Edelman Trust Barometer’s 2013 Survey revealed that less than one-fifth of the general public believes business leaders will tell the truth when confronted with a difficult problem. The Editor alluded to the adverse consequences of this unfortunate trend.
To turn things around, Mr. Roughton urged an ‘agenda of greater integrity.’ Agreed; performance with integrity is, indeed, a foundation factor of trust and credibility. Now as never integrity has no downside; it cannot be over-emphasized. Furthermore, in this frantic hyper-connected age, one of non-stop media and internet transparency, everything lodges in cyberspace. And, somebody somewhere is always watching.
Public trust matters. It undergirds confidence in an organization’s leadership; it affects the value of its goods and services, as well as the reliability of its advertising and promotions. On June 26, the Wall Street Journal wrote that as European Union leaders headed for a summit meeting “…they face a crisis harder to fix than their debt problem…a loss of trust in the European Union itself.”
If institutions and their leaders are to embrace enhanced integrity, they do well to probe the meaning and embrace the essence of it. Not surprisingly, the sovereign virtue is easier to identify than define.
The word “integrity” comes at us from every point on the compass. Yet, few pause to define it, or to describe its contributions to everyday life. Even fewer search for its governing tenets—until they face being compromised and losing their self-respect.
In substance the virtue radiates adhesion. It means adherence to principles that withstand moral scrutiny, that are beneficial to the parties involved. Pared to its bed rock basis, integrity is an uncompromising loyalty to the right ideas—even when it is inconvenient, difficult, or unprofitable. In sum it encompasses the right choice, at the right time, for the right reason, even if no law, rule or regulation, requires it.
Here is how it looks up close. Those for whom integrity is an imperative place a premium on trustworthiness and reputation; they keep their word in matters great and small; they ascribe a heavy weight to accountability; they deliver as promised, when promised, in the manner promised; they stand up and are counted when it counts; they refuse to play fast and loose with the rules. They exert scrupulous honesty and tell the truth regardless of the consequences, knowing full well that when declaring the truth hurts ultimately it helps. And, they abide by the proven proposition that HOW they perform is as critical as WHAT they perform.
Therefore, responsible and responsive leaders—wherever you are—grasp this timeless message. Advance Mr. Roughton’s ‘agenda of integrity.’ We, you, and the public interest—all of us, stand to benefit.