Integrity (Still) Matters

“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”

— Warren Buffett

What is integrity?

Integrity is being the same person when no one’s looking as you are when the spotlight’s on you. It’s doing the right thing even if it’s unpopular.

The goal of a person with integrity is becoming a deeper, more soul-ful person than the culture requires. It’s about living a life of meaning that’s increasingly free of pettiness, jealousy and resentment, while focused more and more on service above self.

I think about integrity a lot, especially as the father of two young boys. It bothers me that we don’t see many examples of integrity in the public square or in pop culture. I talk to my boys a lot about the power of being a person of integrity and what positive leadership means in a world where too many people care about style over substance.

I was thinking about integrity as I read Bruce Turkel’s thought-provoking book, All About Them, which valiantly tries to straddle the line between enabling narcissistic tendencies and holding everyone to a higher standard of behavior. He has a chapter on how quick people are to complain when they’re mistreated by companies, even before giving companies the courtesy of making it right. I see this on eBay, where nervous sellers implore buyers to contact them first to resolve any problems, before leaving knee-jerk poor feedback that could harm their business.

Beyond the definition I wrote above, it seems that integrity requires something else of all of us: Giving the other person the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. And related to that: Giving the other person the opportunity to make it right. That goes for customers as well as companies. We all need to remember that we’re on the same side most of the time, and that mistakes can and do happen. Often it’s not personal, but due to poor training or just someone having a bad day because of problems at home. We’re all human and need to cut each other some slack.

If you run a business, are you running a business of integrity? I seek those out with a passion. A company that respects customers, goes the extra mile to fix problems if they occur, and does what it says it’s going to do is often more valuable to me than a company with lower prices and terrible service.

While I think Turkel is wrong that all products these days are good and perform as well as another in their segments, nonetheless we should pay attention to his larger point that customer service (which is really about integrity) will be the key success factor for companies operating in what can seem like a post-integrity world.

But what about those customers who don’t have the type of integrity I’m describing? To be frank, you don’t want their business. You should want to be known as a company with flaws (like every other enterprise run by human beings) that does whatever it takes to serve customers with integrity and to get better. That will attract the kind of customers who share your company’s values.

And it means you can sleep well at night, knowing your conscience is clear.

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