7 Ways to Improve Your Integrity

August 12, 2012

Trust and integrity are inextricably linked. I believe before you can trust other people, you must trust yourself. That means you must not be fighting with yourself in any way, which is a pretty tall order. Integrity is about what you do or think when nobody else in the world would know. It is an interesting topic because it is very difficult to determine your own personal level of integrity.

We all justify ourselves internally for most of the things we do. We have it figured out that to take a pencil home from work is no big deal because we frequently do work from home. We drive 5 mph over the speed limit because not doing so would cause a traffic hazard while everyone else is going 10 mph over the limit. We taste a grape at the grocery store as a way to influence our buying decision. When we are short changed, we complain, but when the error is in the other direction, we pocket the cash. We lie about our age. We sneak cookies. If you have never done any of these things, let me know, and I will nominate you for sainthood.

There are some times in life when we do something known by us to be illegal, immoral, or dumb. We do these things because they are available to us and we explain the sin with an excuse like “nobody’s perfect.” I guess that is true that all people (except newborns) have done something of which to be ashamed. So what is the big deal? Since we all sin, why not relax and enjoy the ride?

The conundrum is where to draw a moral line in the sand. Can we do something that is wrong and learn from that error so we do not repeat it in the future? I think we can. I believe we have not only the ability but the mandate to continually upgrade our personal integrity. Here are seven ideas that can help the process:

1. Reward yourself – When you are honest with yourself about something you did that was wrong, that is personal growth, and you should feel great about that.

2. Intend to change – Once you have become conscious of how you rationalized yourself into doing something unethical, vow to change your behavior in that area.

3. Reinforce others – Sometimes other people will let you know something you did, or are about to do, is not right. Thank these people sincerely, for they are giving you the potential for personal growth.

4. Check In with yourself – Do a scan of your own behaviors and actions regularly to see how you are doing. Many people just go along day by day and do not take the time or effort to examine themselves.

5. Recognize Rationalization – We all rationalize every day. By simply turning up the volume on your conscience, you can be more alert to the temptations before you. That thought pattern will allow more conscious choices in the future.

6. Break habits – Many incorrect things come as a result of bad habits. Expose your own habits and ask if they are truly healthy for you.

7. Help others – Without being sanctimonious, help other people see when they have an opportunity to grow in integrity. Do this without blame or condemnation; instead do it with love and helpfulness.

We need to build our own internal trust so we can trust other people more. To do that, it is important to follow the seven ideas listed above. These ideas will allow you to move consciously in a direction of higher personal integrity.


Trust Seeds

April 22, 2012

We are all aware that interpersonal trust is precious. Trust is fragile; it is difficult to build, and easy to destroy. Most people believe it takes a very long time to build up trust with another person. There is an alternate view; if certain conditions are present when people first meet, a “seed” of trust is created upon which further trust will grow if both people continue to nurture it.

In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell describes the “Thin Slices” we humans use to size up other people within seconds of meeting them. We absorb an enormous amount of data instantly in the body language and the first words uttered by a new acquaintance.

I can recall meeting two influential men last year within seconds of each other. The first one gave me a solid handshake and a smile. He made great eye contact and asked me a question about my family. The second individual gave me a half-limp handshake while his eyes were scanning the room to see who else was there. He did smile, but it was forced and phony. Since that time, I have effortlessly developed a relationship of high trust with the first individual, and I have felt uncomfortable to be in the same room as the second one. The relationship with the first man took several months to develop, but the seed was planted in the first 5 seconds. With the second man, there was nothing for trust to grow on, so a relationship never kindled.

There are numerous things people instantly assess about us. Here are five conditions that allow you to plant a seed on which trust can grow.

Competence – People must be convinced that you know what you are doing to view you as being trustworthy. If they sense that you have the ability from a knowledge and skill set to deliver on your statements, then you pass the competence test. If they have doubts that you can deliver, then they will remain skeptical until there is enough time to test you.

Integrity – Do you have the character to do what is right? People need to feel that you are not duplicitous and that you will stand up for what you believe is right. It does not mean that you always need to agree with others on every point, but people need to see you as a person of high moral and ethical fiber before they are going to trust you.

Reliability – People need to be convinced that you will do what you say. This characteristic normally takes people a long time to test, but it actually can happen quickly. People can discern your reliability through the way you phrase intentions and even the body language you use to chat with them. The ability to follow through with intended actions or at least get back to the other person if conditions change is easy to spot, just as it is easy to observe a blowhard who says nice things but has no intention to actually do them.

Attitude – To gain trust, you need to project a positive attitude when another person is meeting you and ensure that it comes from the heart. Depending on the contextual background of the meeting, a smile is the usual way to show a positive attitude toward another person. Caveat: putting on a false smile is the kiss of death, because it pegs you as someone who cannot be trusted at all. In a different context, a look of concern or sympathy might be a more appropriate way to show a positive attitude toward the other person. Your attitude and demeanor must be heartfelt and congruent with the situation.

Care – It is vital to project that you really do care about the other person. People might say it takes years to know if someone else really does care about you. In reality, care can be displayed in hundreds of small gestures, just as selfishness can be easily spotted. Giving deference to the feelings of others is an important component of Emotional Intelligence. The interesting observation about this is that the people who have low Emotional Intelligence have the biggest blindspots, according to Daniel Goleman. Translated, if you come across as a phony in terms of really caring about other people, you will not have the ability to detect this in yourself, but others will see it instantly.

On the back of my business card, I have a picture of a pile of various seeds. The words say:

Seeds for Growing Leaders
Plant in an environment of trust,
Sprinkle daily with humility,
Weed out negativity,
Place in the light of truth,
Be patient,
Enjoy the fruits of great leadership.

It does take a long time of consistent performance for a very strong bond of trust to build, but the first seeds of trust can be established quickly upon meeting someone. Make sure when you meet a new person that you genuinely project the five conditions above, and you will be well on your way to a trusting relationship.


Business Integrity

January 26, 2011

This article describes my interaction with two local business entities to illustrate how customer service experiences with contractors on the same job can vary greatly. I had an occasion to hire a chimney sweep this year and had vastly different experiences with two different organizations.

My masonry chimney was glazed with many years of creosote buildup, so I called in a “reputable chimney sweep.” The owner told me that it would cost a lot more than just a regular cleaning because they would need to use a special rotary chain technique to chip off the buildup. The guy came and looked at my configuration. He said I would need to have it cleaned, then the chimney would need to be lined with a stainless steel liner, and finally I would need to purchase a new woodstove, which he would be happy to sell me and install. The estimate came to over $5,000. He used scare tactics indicating we would have to get it done eventually to be up to code, and he did not mention that we might get help from our homeowner’s insurance.

That kind of sticker shock along with his high pressure approach sent me looking for a second opinion! I came across an outfit called Mr. Sweep – Monroe. The owner discussed my problem on the phone and gave me an estimate to do the rotary cleaning. He also said he could line the chimney, if necessary. His price was more reasonable than the first outfit, so, after checking with the BBB, I set up an appointment.

Bob and his assistant, Mark, arrived mid afternoon on a Saturday. They went right to work, after closing the chimney damper so all the soot would not spill into the house. Bob went up the fully-extended 40-foot ladder, removed my chimney cap, and started cleaning with the rotary chain device. It was a very cold day, and they were outside for over an hour, working from the top.

Mark shared with me that he had many vertebra fused in several operations, and his neck was held together with stainless steel screws. He was particularly susceptible to cold and suffered for days if he got too much exposure. Mark came in to vacuum up the ashes from the bottom. There was so much debris that he could not get the damper to open. He and Bob worked for 4 hours, vacuuming the particles through a small slit next to the damper until they could finally get it open. The job ended up being many times the effort than was estimated. Much of the work was out in the cold, yet they charged me the estimated cost at the end.

Bob told me that my chimney tiles were cracked from a recent chimney fire, and I would need to have a liner put in. He gave me an estimate of $2,175 to bring my chimney back up to code and make it safe – less than half what the other guy wanted. He said because the damage was due to a recent chimney fire, my home owner’s insurance should cover the liner. I would only have to pay my $250 deductable. A total of $250 sounded much better than $5000. I was thrilled! We made a date to install the liner for the following week.

Bob and Mark arrived on schedule and proceeded to unroll the massive flexible stainless steel pipe. Bob immediately noticed that there was a kink in the pipe caused by rough handling by the shipper. He just did not think it was right to install a kinked pipe, even though many chimney sweeps do it, so he got on the phone and ordered another one to be shipped out that same day. Two days later, they were back to install the second pipe. This one was in good shape.

Bob and Mark set out some special insulation to wrap around the pipe for better performance. Bob shared that many sweeps do not insulate the pipe because there is one interpretation of the code that makes it unclear whether insulation is required or not. Bob said that he refuses to install a liner that is not insulated, but he said over half of the sweeps manage to slide by without insulation. That lowers their cost and makes the installation much easier, but it is not a quality job.

The afternoon they picked was even worse weather than the first day, but Bob knew I wanted to use my stove on a very cold weekend, so on an 18-degree Friday with lots of snow and 25 mile per hour winds, Bob and Mark went up the 40-foot ladder carrying the heavy and bulky pipe to line my chimney. Bob had to carry the pipe out onto the snowy roof balanced on the peak and leaning into the wind while Mark worked to stuff the pipe down the chimney. Bob had to arch the pipe upward while balancing on the snowy rooftop in the wind (the pipe looked rather like the shape of a fishing pole when you have a big one on the line) so it was nearly vertical at the top of the chimney. I was petrified, but he seemed to take it in stride, even though the wind chill was -25 degrees F.

They got the pipe in and got down safely, much to my relief. Then they went inside to hook up the pipe to the stove. This process was significantly more complex than they had estimated it would be due to the configuration of my chimney, but they stayed with it until the job was done. Mark, with his bad neck, went up to install the cap on top of the chimney, alone in the howling wind. It was brutal.

They finished the job, charged me the original estimate, cleaned up every bit of their mess, and left to go soak in the tub. As they drove out, I thought about the entire experience. These days we are so used to shoddy work and contractors trying to take advantage of customers.

With Mr. Sweep, there were many opportunities for them to take the easier way out, but they adhered to a customer-focused approach, and absolutely did not skimp on the quality, even though the weather was awful and they made less per hour than expected. I was really impressed with their work and service that was evident with both Bob and Mark. Their actions and attitude of service rather than sale made me trust them as business people displaying high integrity. They communicated with me throughout the process, so I understood the logic of what they were doing and why.

You can bet I will be going with them any time I need service in the future. If you ever need chimney service from a company with high integrity, I suggest you call Mr. Sweep! If you do not have a chimney, but are a local business person, consider these individuals as role models for what great customer service is all about.


Recovering After a Mistake

December 19, 2010

I have always been fascinated by mistakes. As human beings, we share several things in common; making mistakes is one of them. The vast majority of the time we blunder into mistakes innocently. Obviously, if we could see mistakes coming, we would take steps to avoid them. The mistake is usually like a mouse trap that is sprung on us while our focus was on something else.

The interesting thing is how we react after a mistake. It is here that I learned a great lesson in leadership and trust. The lesson came years ago when I was a young manager. I was in Japan negotiating a deal for some equipment. I had inadvertently left some material on a table while a group went out for lunch. Some of the material would have been damaging to our negotiating position if it were leaked to the other side. Upon returning from lunch, I realize that I had left things in a state where they could have been copied and later used against us. I did not know if anybody actually did copy some pages, but I felt horrible about my lapse.

Upon returning to the home office in the US, I immediately reported to my boss’s office and said, “Dick, you would never know this if I didn’t tell you, but I made a mistake when I was in Japan this week.” He looked up at me with a smirk and said, “Whatd’ya do?” I explained my lapse in detail. He said, “You’re right, Bob. That’s not the smartest thing you ever did, but I am very grateful you told me.” From that moment on, I felt a much higher level of trust and respect for me in the eyes of my boss. I believe it gave my career a significant and lasting boost.

The key point in the above lesson was that he really would never have known anything about it if I had not admitted the gaff. It was the unprompted admission that spoke much louder than the sin. Since then I have studied the impact of admitting mistakes for leaders, and come away with some observations.

Let’s suppose that I have gathered several leaders into a room and asked them to answer the following question: “After you make a mistake, in terms of maximizing respect for you, is it better to admit it or try to finesse it?”

Most leaders would say admitting the mistake has a much greater probability of increasing respect. The irony is that when subsequently a mistake is made, most of these same leaders choose to hide it or blame someone else. The real conundrum is that if you were to tap the leader on the shoulder at that time, you would hear “I did not want to admit my mistake because I was afraid people would lose respect for me.”

This situation illustrates that intellectually, most leaders know how to improve respect and trust after a mistake, but many of them tend to not act that way when there is an opportunity to apply it in the field. It seems illogical. Perhaps in the heat of the moment, leaders lose their perspective to the degree that they will knowingly do things that take them in the opposite direction from where they want to go. I believe it is because they are ashamed of making a mistake.

When you admit an error, it has an incredibly positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. Perhaps this is one of the differences between IQ and Emotional Intelligence. Intellectually, leaders know the best route to improve trust, but emotionally they are not mature or confident enough to take the risk. When you admit an error, it has a positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. As Warren Bennis in Old Dogs: New Tricks noted, “All the successful leaders I’ve met learned to embrace error and to learn from it.”

Respect is not always increased if a mistake is admitted. For example, here are three circumstances where admitting a mistake would reduce respect and trust:

1. If this was the third time you had made the same mistake
2. If the mistake was so stupid it reveals you as being clueless
3. If the mistake was made in an effort to hurt someone

If you find yourself making these kinds of mistakes, it would be wise to reconsider if you are right for a leadership position at all. The vast majority or mistakes are honest lapses where something unexpected happened. For these so-called “honest” mistakes, it is far better to admit them and ask for forgiveness than to try to finesse the situation or blame others or circumstances. It is a tangible demonstration of your integrity, and that improves trust.


Keep Values Simple

August 15, 2010

Simple Values

Few people would doubt the impact of a good set of values for any organization. Values provide a bedrock of beliefs on which leaders build the culture for their group. The true power of values lies in having everyone in the organization not only understand them but live them every day. That is why I believe it is a mistake to make the values too complex.

Some leaders get enamored by the idea of values and create a set of complex rules that would take a rocket scientist to remember. It is not uncommon to have a list of 20-30 values published by a leader. This sounds like a good idea on the surface; after all, the more values we have the better, right? Not so fast! If the list is cumbersome and hard to remember, then people will have a difficult time remembering them, much less following them every day.

Coach Krzyzewski of the Duke Basketball Program modeled a kind of philosophy with values that helps illustrate the power of a short memorable list. He has used the analogy of the “fist” with each finger being one powerful value that is used to create passion and unity among his teams. The fingers represent 1) Communication, 2) Trust, 3) Collective Responsibility, 4) Care, and 5) Pride. By centering all activities in relation to a powerful fist, Coach K has nurtured a consistent champion level team that has won two National Championships.

Another coach who understood the benefits of a simple philosophy of values was Lou Holtz. He took over 6 collegiate football programs in his career. He never inherited a winning team, but never failed to take that team to a Bowl Game by his second season at the latest. His values were boiled down to only three concepts: 1) Do what’s right, 2) Do the best you can, and 3) Treat others like you would like to be treated. The incredible simplicity of this philosophy made it easy to translate the passion embodied in these values into the hearts of all players. The results speak for themselves.

Simple but great values are not just for sports teams. Any organization will benefit from a memorable set of foundational concepts. My home town of Rochester, NY is blessed to be the home of Wegmans, one of the most successful chains of grocery stores in the world and a frequent top placement in the 100 best places to work in America. The current CEO, Colleen Wegman, said of their values, “We’re committed to our Who We Are Values because they set a strong foundation for us as a company – a foundation of caring about people and each other.” The Wegmans values are very simple: 1) Caring, 2) Respect, 3) High Standards, 4) Making a Difference, and 5) Empowerment.

If you are a leader in an organization, challenge your senior team to come up with a handful of powerful words that describe the essence of your core values. Keep the list of values short so everyone will remember and live them daily.

Simple Values