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Ethics & Integrity

by Bob Czimbal and Michele Brooks

An organizationís success depends on the integrity of its employees. We have all witnessed the severe problems that result in the personal, professional and political arena, when anyone, at any level, acts without integrity.  When an organizationís reputation is damaged, there ensues a tragic loss of both customers and good employees. Organizations of all types are now taking a proactive approach to preventing problems by offering trainings about ethics and integrity.

We found that clients seemed confused about the differences between ethics and integrity. After reviewing the literature on these terms, we have defined ethics and integrity in a way people can understand and immediately use. 

Ethics + Integrity   =   Alignment         (Inside & Out) 

Ethics: is an external system of rules and laws. Usually there are rewards when we follow the rules and punishments when we break them. A professional board or committee often monitors compliance. Many organizations have developed a code of ethics that employees are expected to obey. 

Integrity: is an internal system of principles which guides our behavior. The rewards are intrinsic. Integrity is a choice rather than an obligation. Even though influenced by upbringing and exposure, integrity cannot be forced by outside sources.  Integrity conveys a sense of wholeness and strength.   When we are acting with integrity we do what is right - even when no one is watching.

People of integrity are guided by a set of core principles that empowers them to behave consistently to high standards. The core principles of integrity are virtues, such as: compassion, dependability, generosity, honesty, kindness, loyalty, maturity, objectivity, respect, trust and wisdom. Virtues are the valuable personal and professional assets employees develop and bring to work each day. 

The sum of all virtues equals integrity.

There is a dynamic relationship between integrity and ethics, where each strengthens, or reinforces, the other.  Personal integrity is the foundation for ethics - good business ethics encourages integrity.  A person who has worked hard to develop a high standard of integrity will likely transfer these principles to their professional life. Possessing a high degree of integrity, a personís words and deeds will be in alignment with the ethical standards of the organization.

The right thing to do is not always the easy thing.

It can be challenging for organizations to establish and then comply with their own ethical standards. Whether ethics are defined or not, employees at all levels experience pressures to act against ethical standards and counter to their own integrity.  Some say one thing and then, in the heat of battle, do another.  It takes awareness and courage to act in that moment; to hold out for a choice that is in alignment with the stated ethics of the organization and the integrity of those involved.  

Integrity is what provides the inspiration to convert awareness into action.  The good news: There is intrinsic satisfaction in accessing courage at times when our integrity is tested.

To be strong we must know our weaknesses.

We have created three tools for developing integrity.  We find that there are traits to learn that either encourage or discourage integrity, questions to ask oneself when issues of integrity arise, and clear signs that indicate when one has developed integrity.  Following are some samples of each tool.

1. Encouraging and Discouraging Integrity

Just as there are risk factors for oneís health, there are factors that discourage or encourage integrity. A person lacking self-esteem, friendships, and financial stability, has a higher than normal likelihood of acting without integrity. A person with high self-esteem, a strong support system and a balanced life will most likely act with integrity.  

2. Questions of Integrity

Our integrity is always being tested. During these challenging times, if we have the courage to ask the right question we will often know the right answer. Here is a sample list of questions to guide one in the right direction:

Do I believe this is the right course of action?

Am I being just, fair and considerate?

Would I want others to act the same way?

Is there someone I could talk to who would help me enlarge my perspective?

Is this the right Time, Intention, Person, Place and Style? (T.I.P.P.S.)

Could I make an adjustment that would prevent or alleviate harm?

How will I feel about myself afterwards?

3. Signs of Integrity

Just as there are signs of good health, like blood pressure, fitness and nutrition, there are indicators of integrity:

Open to feedback

Accepts personal responsibility

Balances oneís needs with the needs of others

Practices understanding and compassion

Seeks the advice of others

Respectful of views that are different 

Acts with integrity even when it is inconvenient

Keeps agreements

Knows the difference between humor and hostility.

Think of how a sturdy rope is constructed - shorter fibers interwoven with longer, all braided together with great care. The Abundance Company sees integrity as the effective interweaving of virtues into reliability and honesty.  When ethical companies support their employees in developing integrity, they become even more productive.

Which Ethics & Integrity issue is your organization facing? In closing, we hope you find our   definition and tools to be helpful. We welcome your feedback.

Bob Czimbal and Michele Brooks are directors, coaches and seminar leaders for The Abundance Company.  This article is an excerpt from Skills for Success.

Skills for Success Seminars

Personal Skills for Professional Excellence