Integrity — It’s Not Taught in Schools

Where Does Integrity Come From?

In one of my first articles about leadership (Are you doing what it takes to build a high performance team?), I highlighted seven vital tips that every leader should consider when building a high performance team. One of the themes explored was the obvious concept of “doing the right thing” as being the essence of ethics and integrity. It touched on what’s right and wrong in human conduct. It explored the question of what leaders ought to do when faced with a dilemma or “not-so-good” choices. And as I said in that article, we leaders make decisions all the time. It’s our job and we are being evaluated by how we decide, by our bosses, by our peers, by our subordinates, by our loved ones and our families. It’s our choice, and over a lifetime, it defines who we really are.

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As I watch the current political scene and the decisions made by some of our new “leaders”, I felt compelled to expand on the element of integrity. I promise this is not a political article, as I’m not qualified to discuss in any depth the quality of their most recent decisions. But I do feel compelled to discuss integrity in the context of leadership. Whether it’s in the leadership of a small community group, a company or an entire country, integrity is perhaps the most important quality of a leader. It’s the one quality that empowers, strengthens, liberates and equalizes us. Integrity is the quality of being honest, having strong moral principles and consistency of character. It is undeniably the common denominator of trust, a critical factor in any personal or business relationship.

Temporary Winners

Is integrity taught in schools? Do we learn it at home? Do our parents lecture us about it? Is it displayed on TV? Do we observe and learn integrity in society? Is it self-imposed? Is it shaped by our life lessons? Do we need to make mistakes, learn and adjust to develop and strengthen? Maybe all of the above. I don’t really profess to know. What I do believe is that continued displays of integrity get engraved into our character overtime. It works like a muscle that needs to be exercised and strengthened, so it will show how solid you are and reveal who you really are.

Integrity Starts At Home

Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, 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.” A powerful statement for sure. I used to do business with a company called Huntsman, a multi- billion-dollar chemical supplier of advanced materials, performance products and additives to a variety of market segments. Their founder, Mr. Jon Huntsman, Sr., started the company from scratch and once said in his book “Winners Never Cheat:” “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.” Mr. Huntsman says that integrity is the reason that he has been as successful as he is.

Integrity Will Lead Us To a Better Place

There are many examples of temporary winners. Enron, for example, was cited as one of the most innovating and successful companies in America. The CEO of the company knew the most important people in the country, including the President of the United States at the time. Unfortunately, Enron’s success was built on lies, and the “temporary winners” who led the company are now case studies in the lack of integrity. Time will tell if our current government leadership is in the “temporary winner” category.

Going back to my original questions: Where does Integrity come from? Is it self imposed? Is it shaped over time? Is it taught in schools? My father is a 76-year-old man who still works every day at his own accounting firm in São Paulo, Brazil. 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. And certainly not bragging about it. Several years ago, my older son who was 16 or 17 at the time had a few sessions with a life coach to help him with certain decisions he had to make. In one of the feedback sessions I had with him, the coach emphasized the strong moral principles my son had and his differential sense of righteousness, for his age. While I was proud to hear that, it made me think for a minute about what I had really done to create or influence such a quality on my son. I couldn’t come-up with a specific answer. As I think about it now, I believe that this imprint in character is developed over time and it starts at home, in everything we do, whether someone is watching or not.

Circumstances will influence us and situations will tempt us to deviate from what we know is right. Being aware of this fact all the time and doing the right thing every time is the best way to encourage people around us to do the same. As we individually progress in this continuum, we will be moving in the right direction as a society and improving our chances of watching a display of integrity by our current “leaders” on television, Twitter or when actually leading the country for the world to see. After all, “The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” Confucius.

Alvaro Vaselli is the Founder and CEO of Nuvanna, a startup that combines his 20+ years of leadership in product design and material science in sleep products with his passion to help others achieve a more balanced life. As an entrepreneur, innovator, and team builder, he inspires people to live a more balanced life that includes better sleep, mindfulness, positivity and gratitude. Alvaro is committed to providing best-in-class, innovative products with thoughtfully created and expertly curated resources.

Connect with Alvaro on Twitter and LinkedIn. Original version published at on March 15, 2016.

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