About a decade ago, I was asked in a job interview what I was most proud of in my career. I paused for just a moment and immediately said, “My integrity.”
While I’m honored to have led multiple teams to 10 regional Emmys, to have raised millions of dollars, balanced dozens of budgets, hired and trained many talented team members, taught college courses, helped hundreds of atrisk teens figure out what they want to do with their lives and written a book about it, I’m still most proud that I’ve done it all with integrity.
I’ve always believed you get one shot at integrity and you need to guard it with your life. It is truly my most prized possession. As a leader, I believe everything else either stacks up when you have it or falls apart when you don’t.
How do you know if you have integrity? There isn’t a gap between your intent and your behavior. The saying is “talk the talk and walk the walk.” Here’s another way to say it: You do what you say you’re going to do and if you can’t, you explain why. You say what you mean and you mean what you say. You don’t say you care about people and then ignore them.
A leader’s job is difficult but when your values are your north star, at least you always know what direction you’re going.
Former Chairman and CEO of American Express Ken Chenault wrote his thoughts about integrity down as a guiding principle for his staff. Here is an excerpt:
“ Stand for something. Some values can’t be quantified. Success at any cost isn’t the point. It’s winning the right way that matters… We must consistently prove through our actions that we stand for the right things — customer commitment, quality, integrity, teamwork, respect for people, good citizenship, a will to win, personal accountability and so much more.”
How do you feel when you read those words? They inspire me to do even better, to make an even bigger impact in my organization and the ones I work with.
Taking a stand for what is right professionally isn’t always easy, but it always feels good after you do it. You sleep better at night, and you leap out of bed in the morning ready to get back to it.
But what if you’ve stumbled or made some mistakes? In his book The Speed of Trust, Steven M.R. Covey wrote that we should ask ourselves these questions:
- Do I genuinely try to be honest in all my interactions with others?
- Do I typically “walk my talk?”
- Am I clear on my values? Do I feel comfortable standing up for them?
- Am I open to the possibility of learning new truths that may cause me to rethink issues or even redefine my values?
- Am I able to consistently make and keep commitments to myself?
Losing your integrity often doesn’t happen all at once. It can be a slow slide of trying to make things look better than they really are. At first you disguise it as the right thing to do, but with time you get further and further away from the truth. It’s a slippery slope of tiny actions that can snowball into an avalanche of dishonesty.
Our nation’s first president, George Washington, said it this way: “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”
Washington led by example and I do my best to do the same each and every day. Do you?
Amy Burkett is the host of WTVP’s Leadership Series,
a multi-regional Emmy Award-winning journalist, author
of “The 7D’s to Your Destiny” and a certified
John Maxwell trainer, speaker and coach