Everyday Ethics

Lack of integrity burdens society and opens portals to fraud

According to Webster's online dictionary, integrity has three different meanings. The first is "a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values or incorruptibility." The second is "an unimpaired condition or soundness." The third definition is "the quality or state of being complete or undivided." Managers who focus on building and maintaining integrity, of course, will support a healthy tone at the top and help block portals to fraud. I'll concentrate on the three meanings of integrity in this column.

Integrity is the quality of always doing what you know you should do. Think about it. How many of the things that you know you should do, do you always do and never skip? How you would feel about yourself if you consistently did what you know you should do?

How do you know if you can trust another person? Generally, you base your trust on your experience with the consistency of that person's conduct in the past. It's hard to believe, but there was a time when no one felt the need for written contracts. A person's word was all that was required. Enemies would settle conflicts by accepting mere verbal representations from people who — hours before — were fighting to their deaths. Business executives would agree on commercial transactions based on the spoken word and handshakes.

Even today, some people and businesses have so much integrity their colleagues and customers can trust them with anything. Bill Child, former owner of the RC Willey furniture stores in Utah, Idaho and Nevada, is an example. RC Willey is the largest home furnishings retailer west of the Mississippi. In today's tough competitive world, RC Willey and Bill Child stand tall as leaders of a firm with strong ethical values. (I have no financial or personal relationship with the RC Willey company in any way.)


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