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Leading With Integrity

Seventeen years ago, our business was young and in need of an injection of funds.

We were asked to submit a proposal by a large organisation, to train thousands of their staff nationally. Not only was this invitation exciting, it was the one we had been waiting for and would have increased our business ten fold.

Full of hope, my colleague and I went to meet their senior management team and to have final discussions about the program. At this meeting it was made very clear that we were the people they wanted and we should start the process of preparing and rolling this initiative out across Australia.

But as we drove away, we both felt that something just wasn’t right.

They were a very reputable organisation, but the reasons for training their teams just did not seem to be in sync with Proteus. To their amazement, and ours for that matter, on returning to the office we called them to turn down the business.

Initial claims by them, that we would never work in their industry again, were followed eight weeks later by a massive scandal in their business, that was on the front page of newspapers nationally.

A scandal that was so large that, had we proceeded, not only would we have lost their business, it could very well have taken us down with it.

That day we said NO, was one of the most important days in our business, and we still stand proud of that.

What was it that made us say NO? It certainly was very tempting from a business viewpoint to say YES, and in the eyes of others, saying YES was a no brainer!

But We Said NO – Why?

I believe it was an inbuilt integrity that had been developed over a long period of time that showed its face when it was needed and protected our core values and sense of what was right – or you could just say that we trusted our gut!

I am sure that many of you reading this article have experienced similar situations and acted as we did.

But I also know that there are many people in workplaces right across this country that do not operate this way. They choose the easy road every time, no matter the long-term consequences.

So why is it then unethical people always seem to be so successful?

Well, I guess that depends on what you measure success against. Often their success is short-lived and even if it isn’t, there is usually a trail of burned relationships behind them.

Jon Huntsman, Sr. – Author of Winners Never Cheat – said;

“There are no moral shortcuts in the game of business or life. There are basically three kinds of people – the unsuccessful, the temporarily successful and those who become and remain successful. The difference is character.”

But how do you know if people have character?

Warren Buffett said it best; “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”

How many people do you know like this? Because they are smart or an industry expert, or work hard on their job, does not in itself mean that they have integrity. In fact, in many situations it can be the foil that helps them to get away with so much – because they are perceived to be energetic achievers.

Integrity is not about what we achieve – but rather HOW we achieve it!

When I considered Warren Buffett’s words, all of a sudden people made complete sense to me. People I had known and still know, that I couldn’t quite put my finger on what wasn’t right with them.

People I even liked, but could never really give them 100% of my trust.

People I knew, who were achieving so much and yet their legacy didn’t last; everything crumbled when they weren’t in control.

This now made sense to me. I wasn’t wrong or negative to feel the way I did about them. It was the integrity factor that was disturbing me, not the other two. But the other two made me feel that I couldn’t question their integrity!

So, I set out to find out what integrity really was, because if this could explain so much about how I was feeling about certain people, I wanted to know more.

The first thing I needed to understand was exactly what integrity meant.

The Dictionary states, ‘it is a possession of firm principles, completeness, wholeness and honesty’.

It doesn’t say weak or submissive or totally compromising, or that we can’t be assertive, entrepreneurial or innovative, it is all about HOW we do these things!

Oprah Winfrey when asked what integrity was, replied;

“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”

But what Oprah was really saying was, “our decisions should not be determined by who is watching or only by what we can gain, but what is the right thing to do” – because over a lifetime the decisions we make will define who we really are.

Integrity is putting someone else’s needs before yours, while not compromising what you believe is right.

Integrity is also about how much effort you put into things e.g. your job. Lazy people lack integrity. People who constantly criticise and blame – lack integrity.

People in the workplace who believe that they are owed a living and are entitled to have the company do everything for them – lack integrity.

People who would take you into their trust and then take what they have gotten from you and use it against you – lack integrity.

People with excessive egos – lack integrity.

As leaders we make decisions all the time. Imagine if doing the right thing became our new ‘decision-making’ filter!

It’s not about being perfect or getting everything right, it’s about doing what we know is right, not just what pleases others.

The disease to please is possibly at pandemic levels in our workplaces today.

Well there is an immediate cure to this pandemic – start to do what is right!

There has always been much debate about whether integrity can be taught or not.

I believe it can be taught – not through words, but through example.

You can tell people what it is and how they can achieve it, but you can’t make them have it! That will be determined by the choices they make!

Author/Blogger & Senior Business Growth Executive, Alvero Vaselli said this about where he learned integrity;

“My father is a 75-year old man who still works every day at his own accounting firm in Brazil – he taught me integrity. I don’t ever remember having a lecture from him on integrity, nor do I remember having a particular class on integrity. What I do remember from him are numerous displays of doing the right thing when nobody was watching, day after day, year after year.” That’s where I learned integrity!

It is not taught through a book, it is taught through example.

That is why parenting is so important. That is why it is so important that we have great teachers in our education system and they are properly supported. That is why Leaders must also pass the ‘Integrity Test’ if they are to have meaningful impact and be a positive influence on those they are serving.

If you want to change people’s behaviour, stop telling them what to do – show them by modeling a new way. Teach values and qualities, which when lived, are the birthplace of integrity.

We cannot force people to live them, but we can lead by example.

WOW what a challenge to parents, teachers, leaders, politicians and every one reading this article.

People learn integrity by watching others live it!

Have you ever worked with someone who you thought lacked integrity? There is just something not right – like our business deal, you feel it in your gut. You might even like them, but you don’t completely trust them.

We have been told for years to follow our GUT without realising that there is actually science behind it.

Recent neuroscience findings have uncovered that we have complex and functional neural networks (or brains) not just in our head but also in our heart and in our gut. These three nervous systems display amazing levels of memory and intelligence. Furthermore there’s growing evidence that these brains are deeply involved in the control and processing of numerous functions, including processing of information and making decisions.

No longer can leaders rely solely on the competencies dominated by their head alone – thank goodness!

Unless we have all three in sync, then we limit ourselves in the decisions we make and in the way we live.

Using The Three Brains

Without the head intelligence, decisions will not have been properly thought through and analysed.

Without the heart intelligence, there will not be sufficient values-driven emotional energy to care enough to act.

Without the gut intelligence, there will not be sufficient attention to managing risks or enough willpower to execute decisions.

As a result – for people to live with REAL integrity, make great decisions and get the best results, all three intelligences must be in sync.

Using our three brains is powerful, but it must be something we practice, often.

Understanding Patterns

Recently I have been doing a lot of reading and research around the impact of ‘Patterning’ in our lives.

Our lives are full of patterns. Some are engrained to protect us and to give our brain a rest, but others are there simply because we chose to do or think a certain way, over and over again.

That is why a liar or a cheat finds it hard to change, because the patterns are ingrained into them from constant repetition.

You tell a lie then you build on it and the lie grows, making it harder to tell the truth the next time. But worse than that, we choose to do something that causes our head, heart and gut brains to be out of sync.

The important thing to understand is that with work we can change our patterns at any time we see the need, because they are formed through decision and repetition.

We develop integrity the same way, by doing the right thing over and over again. It becomes a part of who we are. It becomes our new autopilot.

How do we build integrity?

Apart from doing the right thing over and over again and creating new patterns, I am not entirely sure about the science behind building integrity, but as I stated earlier, there is much debate about whether we learn it at home, at school, on TV, or from parents. Is it self-imposed, or just shaped by the lessons of life? I suggest that it is all of the above and more.

In fact, experts tell us it is a combination of Nature & Nurture.

So, is a person’s development predisposed in DNA, or is the majority of it influenced by life experiences and environment? There are great arguments on both sides.

What I do know is that whether it is Nature or Nurture, or both, we do have the ability to choose if we live with integrity or not. Because we were designed to think, make changes and create new patterns.

But to be able to do this, we must first answer this question:

Is the life you’re leading worth the price your paying to lead it?

Some people and organisations have simply chosen chaos and feed the patterns everyday, making the furrows even deeper. Their systems, their culture and their attitude reflect this.

It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way!

We put up so many walls to protect ourselves against what others might think, and without knowing it, actually foster the beginnings of a lack of integrity.

If your motives and intent are right and you have treated others with respect, then it doesn’t matter what people without integrity think of you.

I have discovered that people will like you or not like you for many reasons and in fact the more integrity you display, the more people without it, will fight against you.

Be yourself and do the right thing, because that is integrity!

Des Penny is the CEO and Founder of Proteus Enterprises Pty Ltd.


Proteus Leadership is one of Australia’s premier leadership training and development companies. Proteus Leadership provides leadership courses and management training to a range of industries and assists organisations to build positive workplace cultures, implement change and Create Great Leaders. Proteus also facilitates a range of world-class management courses, workshops, conferences and events across Australia and beyond with the sole purpose of bringing leaders together to connect and grow.

“Our core purpose is to Create Great Leaders that will in turn build Great companies and develop Great teams.”

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