I often tell my kids they need to always have integrity.  That they must make decisions based on their sense of right and wrong – not decisions based on what their friends are doing.  The other day my 10 year old asked me what I mean when I say “live with integrity.”  Well…I had to think about it a minute so I could explain it in terms that a 10 year old would understand.  As I began my explanation, I realized it could and should be explained to people of all ages.  I can’t speak for all but I know I want to surround myself with people of integrity.  That means in both my personal and professional life.

I would say integrity has different meanings in personal and professional situations but many areas crossover.  In terms of business, I would say integrity means avoiding conflicts of interest, following laws, and living by the guidelines your company has established.  And of course, you should strive to work at a company that has the same sense of integrity as you do in your personal life.

Integrity goes far beyond following the rules or standards of the company.  It is about doing the right things even when no one is watching.  And sometimes even harder, doing the right thing when people are watching.  It means taking pride in your work.  Following through on promises.  Living up to expectations.  Not cutting corners or taking shortcuts.  Taking on problems, not ignoring them.  The daily internal struggle to do what you know is right even though it may be hard and difficult.

And at all times, integrity is about putting the organization’s interests ahead of our own.  If people are driven first by self-interest, they will eventually be exposed.  And it’s hard, if not impossible, to coach someone to overcome self-interest.  It’s so ingrained that all the coaching and mentoring in the world just can’t change a basic sense of self over others.

I think that self-interest is at the core the true downfall of many leaders – perhaps more than any other single trait. It translates into poor decisions, poor execution, and a poor company reputation.  And while there may be patience to help a leader develop, there’s little to no patience to overcome a gap in integrity.

Are you working for someone of integrity and are you keeping to your standards of integrity?  Sometimes the same things we are taught as children apply to our adult life.  Simple truths but truths nonetheless.  Take some time to think about this – you will be a happier individual if you are living your true self.