Character and Integrity

Character and Integrity

When I interview candidates, I regularly test for both character and integrity. One of the scenarios that I present is, what if you saw one of your co-workers manipulating their expense report to earn extra money? I then give them two choices: First, they can report the issue, but because of political reasons, both they and the offending employee will be terminated. Second, they can do nothing. The character trait that I am testing for is, what will they do when no one is looking? The integrity trait that I am testing for is, do they make decisions based on their core values or their emotions? Approximately 25% of the candidates choose to do nothing; 25% of the candidates hesitate too long for me to feel comfortable with them moving forward; and 50% of the candidates say that they would report the issue, even if it meant termination, because it is the right thing to do. Obviously, these numbers are alarming.

What is character? Character is the sum of the individual traits that form our nature. It is who we are. Character traits can be both positive (optimism) and negative (temper). While we all have some degree of negative characteristics in our nature, having positive foundational traits, such as integrity, is critical. The U.S. Air Force Academy seeks to admit people with character traits that drive them to do the right thing despite external and internal pressures to the contrary. Doing the right thing according to the universal standard of human and ethical conduct is the bar that we should all continually work to meet. Character counts. Action, not words, is the true measure of character. The good news is that we have the power to choose our character. Strong character engenders trust. It is the only way that we can sustain success over the long term.

What is integrity? Integrity is wholeness. What you do and say are the same. Your actions do not diminish your words and vice versa. In other words, the show is the same behind the curtain as on stage. People with integrity make decisions based on their values, not their emotions. They constantly judge themselves against their values. They know that adhering to their values may alienate them from some people, but never from themselves. People with integrity are authentic. They do not have divided loyalties (duplicity) or false beliefs (hypocrisy). Integrity requires trust. Trustworthiness requires predictability. When you make decisions based on your values, you create predictability. Duplicitous and hypocritical decisions always leave people with scars, even if they are not immediately noticed. Each of us will eventually be recognized for who we are, not what we appear to be.

How can you develop and maintain high character and integrity? If you want your life to have value, you must choose a standard to live by. I recommend the Golden Rule (GR) because of its universal application across cultures and people throughout the world. The GR says, treat other people how you would want to be treated in the same or similar circumstance. To take it one step further, the Platinum Rule (PR) says, treat other people better than how you would want to be treated in the same or similar situation. When making decisions, think through every person you will impact (and how they would want to be treated). Both the GR and PR are effective character and integrity guidelines for any situation. When you are confronted with a character or integrity issue, apply either rule and stay true to it. Make the GR and the PR the standards you live by.

ADD ON (06-06-10): Famed college basketball coach, John Wooden, died last Friday at age 99. His entire life, Wooden was a man of high character and integrity. Originally, both the University of Minnesota and UCLA wanted to hire him as head coach. From the Midwest, Wooden wanted to remain there. As negotiations continued, he set a deadline for Minnesota. When the deadline passed, he accepted UCLA’s offer. Hours later, Minnesota called stating there had been no telephone service because of heavy snow. Even with heavy pressure from Minnesota to back out, he insisted on keeping his word to UCLA. Wooden often told his players, “What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player . . . Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is what others think you are.”

ADD ON (07-10-10): The best companies in their industries live their core values. These companies and their people make decisions and take action based on core values. While strategy and execution change over time, core values do not. Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of GE, has described the critical importance of core values when discussing “the how” behind the numbers that executives deliver. Welch said, “People who make the numbers and share GE’s core values go onward and upward. People who miss the numbers, but share our core values get a second chance. People who do not share our core values and miss the numbers – easy call. The problem is with those who make the numbers, but do not share our core values . . . We try to persuade them: we wrestle with them; we agonize over these people.” Work to “make the numbers” by adhering to your core values.

All contents copyright © 2010, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.

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