By Brian Towley Reality Intelligence featured expert
“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” -Rosa Park
Once while I was speaking at a conference, an attendee who was just beginning his career asked what I felt the most important value a person should live by. I told him that while success comes and goes on many levels, integrity lasts forever. Unfortunately, we live in a world where integrity is scarce, and doing the right thing — regardless of the situation — is not discussed or even thought about as often as it should be.
Integrity is defined as, “The quality of being honest and having strong principles; moral uprightness.” It’s also been identified as the foundation and driving force of effective leadership. The hallmark of true integrity is choosing to do what’s right, even when doing what’s wrong would be easier. When you do the right thing, you never have to worry about second guessing yourself. It’s a life lesson I was taught as a child and has always been in the forefront of my mind.
It’s common for our integrity to be tested daily. During these times, it’s important to take the time to think carefully before responding to issues that might evoke an emotional reaction. A quick test of integrity is to ask yourself if the behaviors you are about to engage in would pass the “THINK before you speak” test: Is your response True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind?
When all five of these elements are present, a response to any situation will be more effective because it’s based on integrity.
Building a reputation of integrity takes time, but it takes only a second to lose. That’s why it’s important to identify behavior or actions that could damage your integrity and stop and THINK before you act. It reminds me of my Great Grandma Wilma.
She was a remarkable woman of immense wisdom and experience and a legendary figure to those who knew her throughout her long life. A trusted advisor and benefactor despite her modest means, she was an unforgettable figure who touched many lives.
In Grandma Wilma’s home, a person was trusted by their word or promise. Her standard was simple: integrity is keeping your word and doing what you say you will do.
Although she’s gone, I have a chair in my study that belonged to her. At times when I am compelled to do something with uncertainty, I look at that chair and ask, “What would Grandma Wilma do?” “What would she say?” I can almost hear her voice saying, “You know what’s right, just do the right thing.” The answer then becomes easy. The right thing may not always be practical or profitable, but it is a response based on truth, honesty and fairness.
My Grandma Wilma took great pride in sharing and teaching life lessons. I learned a lot from her through the years. She once said something to me at my high school graduation that has always stuck with me. “If you are going to work for the rest of your life, make sure it’s something you enjoy doing and always be a man of your word because those are things no one can ever take away from you.” Luckily, it was her words that help guide me through one of the first challenges of my first job.
Her advice came a year into my entry into the workforce. My formal training was quick and lacked any interpersonal relationship expertise. Within a very short time, I was offered my first supervisor role over an entire bank branch with absolutely no management or leadership training. Despite my lack of experience, I knew what needed to be done and how to get it done. However, some of the more seasoned employees did not take well to my supervisory role because of my young age. It was tense, at best
We all have turning points in our careers. One of mine was the day our branch president at the time, who is one of the most respected people I know to this day, invited me to lunch. I would later look back on this as a lesson in integrity and perception that was pivotal in my personal and professional development.
The lunch invitation was a way for the branch president to tell me that some of the ladies had approached him about my attitude, saying that I was not easy to get along with and was a bit of an “ass.” I was shocked to hear this from him. My natural instinct was to be angry about it because I knew from whom these remarks were coming.
Once my initial anger was diffused, I realized that attitude would just make the situation worse, and I could find better ways to win the battle of perception. I made the decision to not be offended but to prove them wrong by taking my great grandmother’s advice and do the right thing.
The next day I went into work with the mindset that I was going to be the most helpful, caring person with whom they had ever worked. It was not long after this that I started to notice I was getting respect from many employees. Within a short period of time, the few who were stirring the pot chose to leave the bank rather than accept a younger supervisor.
It was the beginning of a successful banking career that lasted 26 years and was the foundation of my success that enabled me the opportunity of going from a 17-year-old drive-through teller to retiring from the same bank as a Senior Vie President.
Integrity is essential to building trust and the root of any effective relationship, whether with co-workers, clients, friends, family members or a team. When we live by the value of integrity, we eliminate the natural desire for territorial tendencies that foster divisiveness and create a spirit of cooperation instead of competition.
As Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.”