Personal integrity is not enough

I am currently in steamy Singapore (90 F and thunderstorms) to participate in training sessions and workshops with 40 ethics & compliance colleagues from my organization.

Yesterday, we discussed the difference between personal and organizational integrity and reputation. In essence, a leader with personal integrity will enjoy a good personal reputation, and that is all fine. But unless that leader is also committed to creating ans supporting processes that protect the organization’s integrity and reputation, her personal reputation is merely interesting to the organization. A leader who never pays a bribe is of little benefit to the organization if she doesn’t put in place processes to prevent corrupt behavior by others.

A leader who allows his organization’s integrity and reputation to suffer will also see his business suffer. His requests for additional headcount, for funding, for equipment will be denied by higher-ups, who can no longer trust his organization. If such a leader didn’t lose his job for failing to protect the organization’s integrity in the first place, he’s likely to lose it soon for not meeting operational goals.

This is one of the most compelling perspective I have seen to describe the value of ethics & compliance to business leaders. It turns on its head the too-oft used expression “Good ethics is good business,” which sounds good but is far from a call to action.

Ethical leaders understand that their personal integrity is merely an asset, a compass, a guide to creating organizational integrity.

The real work remains to be done.

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