With the Enron and other scandal opening our eyes to corruption at the corporate level, the importance of ethics and integrity in business is at the forefront of America’s awareness. We hear the words “ethics” and “integrity” a lot, but what, exactly, do they mean?
Ethics are a set of principles of right conduct. Integrity is the strict adherence to this set of principles, which does not waiver depending on the circumstances. For businesses and individuals to operate at their fullest potential, both ethics and integrity need to be solidly in place.
“I would go so far as to predict that most new businesses and entrepreneurs who do not have a solid ethical foundation will fail within five years,” writes Peter Koestenbaum, author of The Philosophic Consultant. “Conversely, those who do behave ethically will thrive, both financially and in other ways. Every conscientious businessperson should make it a priority to explore what ethical behavior is, and how he or she can make ethical decisions.”
It’s no secret—whether you’re in a corporation or running your own business—that we’re all working to achieve the same common goal: to make money. But profit motive doesn’t need to overshadow the truth that, ultimately, business is about service. Service means making clients’ needs as important as the desire to increase profits.
“Ethics is empathy, which means service,” writes Koestenbaum. “It’s an attitude of love and compassion, of caring, of including people, of valuing them, of hearing them, of suffering when they suffer, and of being proud when they succeed.”
Ethical behavior must be expressed both in words and in behavior. If you’re saying one thing and doing another, you’re lacking integrity. Understanding this is even more important if you’re in a leadership position.
“At its core, integrity begins with a company leader who understands the qualities of integrity, which then filters down throughout the company into every department and every member’s approach and attitude,” says Robert Moment, author of It Only Takes a Moment to Score.
Below are some actions you can take to embrace ethics and integrity in an everyday way:
• Decide which ethics are important in your business and personal life, put them in writing, and incorporate them into your mission statement. If you are not clear on these principles, they will be impossible to follow.
• Make ethics a part of your training program and ongoing education, whether you work with a part-time assistant or an entire company.
• Make values a critical and integral aspect of your business plan.
• Don’t overemphasize profit motives at the cost of compromising integrity. Keep the focus on service.
• Practice ethical behavior. Talking and writing about ethics is not enough. If ethics are not practiced in action, they won’t exist in your workplace.
Operating with integrity on a personal and professional level means being willing to say no to people and situations that do not meet your ethical standards. That may mean saying no to more profit, if attaining it would mean working with people, or in situations, that would cause you to compromise your ethics or integrity. Compromising your integrity is a cost neither you nor your company can afford.