Your career is the most important part of your life because it is the part that sustains and defines everything else. Unless you are able to build a solid foundation of integrity, honesty and dignity, everything else will fall apart when things don’t go your way. However, if you are able to do this, then nothing can stand in the way of your success – not bad event, not bad people and certainly not a bad economy.
The two critical elements of a solid reputation are integrity and dignity. As we explore each of these in detail, and how to go about building such a reputation, bear in mind that what you are trying to do is to build from the inside out – not apply a coat of glossy paint to make your image look good. True integrity and dignity necessarily come from within, and when you understand that, you’ll see how great a bearing it as on practically every aspect of your life. Make no mistake – this is a hard path to follow, and many fall by the wayside; but if you can stick to your guns after setting your course properly, then your ultimate destination becomes a ‘when’ rather than an ‘if.’
A House Built on Integrity and Dignity
The word integrity comes from the original Latin integer, which means complete or whole. This is good starting point for the purpose of our discussion here, because it encompasses everything that a person of integrity should stand for. However, we should elaborate, because ‘complete’ could mean different things to different people.
To extend this idea of completeness, we look at other definitions of the word. Some sources say it is consistency in moral values; others equate it to accuracy, truthfulness and honesty; yet others define it as internal consistency of the positive kind. All of these definitions make sense, yet leave something undefined. This unknown quantity can be called dependability in the highest sense of the word. A building is said to have integrity when it is structurally sound and impervious to anything but the most vigorous physical attack. A set of rules is said to have integrity when the interpretation of it is consistent, and therefore dependable. A man is said to have integrity when people around him can depend on him to do the right thing every time.
So, a good definition of integrity would be: “the quality inherent in or developed by a person when enables that person to be predictably dependable when it comes to moral and ethical values.” Therefore, when you say that a person has integrity, you are essentially saying that they have a high moral and ethical standard that they apply to every situation, irrespective of the consequences. That is integrity.
How then, do you go about attaining this level of dependability? A strong internal moral compass and consistent behavior seem to be the two essential tools to achieve this. Your moral compass doesn’t necessarily have to agree with any particular views that society might hold dear; but it does have to be acceptable in the sight of the many. Any value system that you choose to follow should have the interests of the majority in mind, and should be perceived as being fair. This last part is very important because if a particular standard is not based on an acknowledgedand accepted one where the majority is concerned, it may have little meaning. This does not mean you compromise your own value system – only that you ensure its compatibility with a more universally accepted one.
There are no grey areas as far as integrity is concerned – remember this well. It either is or it isn’t – although making the right decision might be hard, or may involve getting more evidence to support both sides of an argument. A true man of integrity is never in doubt about his stand, no matter what the consequences of that stand might be. He never favors himself – only the moral standard on which his integrity has been painstakingly built.
If all of this is acceptable to you, then you are ready to build your foundation of integrity. You must be careful in all your dealings, because people will be watching you. If they know you are a person of integrity, they may even try to tempt you into giving up your resolution. But as you gradually gain traction, people will start to warm up to you and being depending on you as a pillar of strength and support. Your journey, then, has truly begun.
Dignity is often defined as the right to equality in all respects, but this is only one interpretation. The other definition relates to the behavior of a person – to behave in a dignified manner. The first type of dignity is usually assured in a professional environment: many laws have been passed to ensure the dignity of human beings in the workplace and in society; laws against discrimination often have severe punishment backing them. The second type, however, is the kind that comes from within a person. In a sense, it, too, is a right to equality, but it comes from within; it comes from a sense of self-worth rather than the perceptions of the outside world.
In a professional context, the second type of dignity is closely linked with integrity. Without the latter, one cannot behave in a dignified manner. If your perception of morality is skewed, then your dignity will also be loosely defined. People will hesitate to call you a ‘dignified’ executive if they know that you repeatedly go back on your word or constantly changing opinions based on who’s around you.
The two qualities of integrity and dignity are not the same, but they are closely related in that there cannot be one without the other. In the absence of the one, any pretense to the other will be seen through in a minute – or a month. It doesn’t make a difference how hard you try to fake it, it will fall apart.
These two, then, are the founding qualities on which to build a successful professional career. No career lasts long without these, and no career can fail with the support of these governing characteristics. Make no mistake – you will face challenges and be presented with the most mind-bending situations, but having these two friends as your consorts will guarantee that you come out on top – even if you have to suffer the consequences for a short time. In the end, you will prevail if you have these as best friends for life.