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Foundations of Integrity

By Alan Zimmerman

"The time is always right to do what is right." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The elections are upon us, and no matter what the outcome, history is in the making. And history needs to be made ... considering the lack of integrity that is so rampant in so many of our so-called "public servants."

In fact, I like the way one health care expert put it when asked about a particular elected official. He said, "I don't think they could legally put him in a mental hospital. On the other hand, if he were already in, I don't believe they could legally let him out."

Well, it's easy to pick on politicians because their lives and careers are very public. But the need for integrity is just as critical in our businesses and in our relationships. As author Brian Tracy declares, "Integrity is the foundation upon which all other values are built."

I couldn't agree more. So what does a person of integrity look like? How do they behave? And how can you build upon your own integrity? You have to build integrity on five foundations...

1. Be authentic.
It doesn't matter what you call it ... ethics, honesty, or being true to yourself. Authenticity is the first part of integrity. And it's the first thing other people want to see in you ... not some superficial image you've created and tried to project.

In the book Be Your Own Brand, McNally and Speak say, "We make the most lasting and vivid impressions when people witness us being true to our beliefs and staying in alignment with who and what we really are. When we summon the courage to be authentic, the effect is powerful."

You may need to take some time to figure out YOUR values and YOUR beliefs ... not your spouse's, your parents', your boss's, or society's values and beliefs ... but YOUR values and beliefs. As I often tell my audiences, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."

Or as Brain Tracy advises, "Be absolutely clear about who you are and what you stand for. Refuse to compromise." Refuse to compromise on your authenticity and thereby your integrity.

2. Practice self-discipline.
Integrity may not come easily or naturally ... because it takes a bit of work to do the right thing instead of the easy thing. After all, building a strong character requires self-discipline, and self-discipline is the willingness and ability to do what's right when you don't feel like it.

Plato knew that thousands of years ago. He taught, "The first and best victory is to conquer self." And it takes years for some people to learn that lesson, and others never learn it.

Take the great golfer Bobby Jones, for example. He was winning golf tournaments by the age of 12. But he had a temper ... and his nickname was "club-thrower." An older gentleman called Grandpa Bart recognized Jones' talent and his character issues. He said, "Bobby, you're good enough to win, but you'll never win big until you conquer that temper of yours."

Jones did master his temper and went on to win his first US Open at age 21. Grandpa Bart used to say, "Bobby was 14 when he mastered golf, but he was 21 when he mastered himself."

Yes, self-discipline may take some time, but the integrity it builds will pay off for a lifetime. As the English theologian Henry Parry Liddon put it, "What we do on some great occasion will probably depend on what we already are; and what we are will be the result of previous years of self-discipline."

If you are serious about building your character and your integrity, look for an opportunity to say "no" to yourself every day in some SMALL area. Try it. You'll be surprised how hard it is. But the payoff will come when you need to say "no" to yourself in some BIG area of life. You'll have the spiritual strength to do what you need to do when you need to do it.

3. Accept responsibility.
Don't pass the buck. And don't blame anybody else or anything else IF you are indeed responsible.

Of course, that goes against human nature. Almost everybody wants to avoid the punishment that comes with doing something wrong ... so they "naturally" and immaturely deny responsibility. They protest, "I didn't do it!" even when the evidence proves otherwise.

The problem is ... when people don't admit to their mistakes, it leads to bigger issues in the workplace and on the home front. The blame game becomes a habit. Productivity suffers as people spend more time covering themselves than actually doing their jobs. On an extreme level, unethical behavior grows, and before long, it has become front-page news.

Instead, I urge you to do the "unnatural" thing. Admit your mistakes. Take responsibility. Stop worrying about what other people think of you. Ultimately they'll respect you more for admitting what you can't do or the mistake you made, than observing you blame others.

The one-time slave and world-famous educator George Washington Carver knew that. He said, "Ninety-five percent of failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses." So don't make excuses. Just accept responsibility.

4. Keep your word.
A promise is a promise. Period. It doesn't matter if you no longer "feel" like doing what you said you were going to do. Unless all h_ll breaks out, if you're going to be a person of integrity, you have to keep your word. You have to follow through on every promise you make.

As one wise person observed, you can't build a reputation on what you're going to do. You build your reputation, character, or integrity on what you did.

Again Tracy's wisdom is profound. He says, "Character is the ability to follow through on a resolution long after the emotion with which it was made has passed." In other words, you don't rule your life by your feelings; you rule it by thoughtful, conscientious, ethical decision-making.

5. Do what is right.
This element of integrity seems so elementary that we shouldn't even have to mention it. But in a time when "looking good" seems to be more important ... or at least gets more attention ... than "being good," this foundation needs to be stressed as well. As one person put it, "Cowardice asks, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks, 'Is it popular?' But conscience asks, 'Is it right?'"

If you want to be known as a person of integrity, a leader of character, or a parent of value, you've simply got to do what is right. Dan Zadra, the CEO of the Creative Director Compendium, says, "Live your life so your children can tell their children that you not only stood for something wonderful-- you acted on it."

Of course, that is easier said than done. After all, our media-obsessed culture seems to glorify "taking the easy way out." But it wasn't always that way. Walter Lippmann, a journalist of some 50 years ago, used to say, "A man has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct even when it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so." He didn't preach the "easy way out;" he taught the importance of taking "the right way forward."

Other people think "doing what is right" is so old-fashioned. They'll say there are lots of definitions of "right," and they're all "right." There's no such thing as "right or wrong" or "good or bad" ... which leads to the issue of being able to justify anything and everything. Ethics and integrity become cloudy concepts rather than guiding principles.

I defer to John G. Diefenbaker, a politician from a few generations ago. He cut through all the fancy distorted rhetoric by proclaiming, "Freedom is the right to be wrong; not the right to do wrong."

Integrity, ethics, character, reputation ... whatever you call it ... is not genetic. It is not inherited. It is built upon these five foundations. And you can build as much of it as you want. The more you build, the more you succeed. So go out there and build.

Write the five foundations of integrity on a piece of paper and rank order them from 1 to 5. 1 is the foundation you're best at and 5 is the foundation that needs the most work. Once you've made your ranking, go to work on number 5.

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success, Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site.

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