Sunday, September 30, 2007

Integrity: The Key Ingredient in Mutually Beneficial Business Relationships

I recently had a conference call with some clients from out of state. I know these clients personally first, and then professionally; so we initially spent some time catching up on personal issues. After our discussion had run through the obligatory: Sports, mutual friends, vacation plans, we then moved on to more personal matters. (For men there are varying degrees of personal matters: Those you share with acquaintances, those you share with colleagues, and those you share with true friends).

I asked one of my clients--an entrepreneur for whom I sometimes craft articles and promotional materials--how things were going with his business. He's carved out a rather unique niche in his business: He identifies ways companies can reduce what they spend on various services (utilities, phone, printers, etc.) and earns a percentage of the ensuing savings for his shrewd analysis.

A typical entrepreneur, my friend is big picture all the way: He thinks big, plans big, and rarely sees the details. He's a great salesman and has over the past few years, based on the growth of his business, surrounded himself with people who can help him continue that growth in a planned, strategic fashion.

Recently, one of the people he hired did not deliver. Without getting into specifics, because this guy failed to produce a business development plan, my friend lost a connection to a venture capitalist who was interested in taking a seven-figure stake in the growth of his business.

Which brings me to today's topic: Integrity.

Wikipedia has an interesting commentary on the topic, suggesting that we can identify the value and importance of integrity by comparing two scenarios: On the one hand, a world of honesty and sincerity, of being able to rely on what others say. A world in which people are punctual and willingly fulfill their obligations and duties in life and to the best of their ability. This would be a world without lying, cheating, stealing, fraud, criminality, etc. Clearly, an ideal world.

On the other hand, imagine a world in which everybody is dishonest most of the time: Nobody tells the truth if it is not in their best interest, everybody is out to get everything they can, any way they can, including by lying and not keeping agreements and contracts. People shirk duties, obligations, and only when forced pay debts. When the opportunity presents itself, people will commit fraud and steal.

Our second imagined world is going to be full of rules and laws, long contracts, lawsuits, police, judges, and punishments to control non-integral behavior. One of the main purposes of law is to enforce integrity when the people have none. In a society rife with laws, as ours is, do we in fact lack integrity?

There are tremendous costs associated with a society that lacks integrity: The wasted time, energy and money of big groups of lawmakers and law enforcers; courts and millions of lawsuits; walls, fences, locks and bars on homes and businesses; verification, security guards, alarm systems and agencies, internet mal-ware (virus, spyware, spam, etc.) protection--to cite a few. Sound familiar? We could well be discussing our so-called "modern" society.

On the personal level, a lack of integrity is detrimental to one's personal power in life, to the respect of and relationships with others; above all, a lack of integrity destroys one's self-respect and self-esteem --qualities absolutely essential for personal happiness.

Wikipedia suggests that there are two ways to accumulate great power and wealth in life: One is by the path of love and integrity, creating great Good for others (good products and services). The other is by the path of Anti-Love and No-Integrity... Lying, cheating, stealing, criminality.

The difference between the two is happiness. The cost of the path of No-Integrity is without exception personal unhappiness.

Without getting into details, the guy whom my friend hired was paid to do a job. Not only did he not do the job for which he was paid, but he also callously disregarded my friend's business goals--the very goals he was paid to advance. That demonstrates a lack of integrity.

My friend is upset about the loss of the business, yes; but I sensed he was more upset that the guy whom he hired abused his trust and took his money. That's the unkindest cut of all: When our trust is shattered.

In our business relationships, and more importantly in our personal relationships, our word is our bond. If you commit to doing something, do it. If you make a promise, you follow through. You don't accept payment for services you don't provide. You don't overcharge. You don't lie. You lead a life--personal and professional--of integrity.

You may not make a fortune leading such a life, but you can honestly say to yourself and to others that you have integrity.

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