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How to make opportunities happen

by HARVEY MACKAY
| March 10, 2024 1:00 AM

In 1896, Emmanuel Ninger was arrested for passing counterfeit $20, $50 and $100 bills. When law enforcement searched his home, they discovered three portraits that Ninger had painted. He was a very good artist and hand-painted his counterfeit bills.

After his arrest, his portraits were sold at public auction for $16,000 — over $5,000 each. The irony is that it took Ninger the same amount of time to paint each portrait as it did to paint the counterfeit bills. Ninger could have been a wealthy man if he had legitimately marketed his ability. However, he stole from himself and compromised his integrity.

Integrity: either you have it, or you don't. It's not something that you can have one day and not the next. It should be a constant in your life, like brushing your teeth.

Integrity and ethics in business are absolutely fundamental. Integrity is the bedrock upon which all other values are built. In my experience, if you have integrity, nothing else matters. And if you don't have integrity, nothing else matters. This isn't just a catchy phrase; it is a guiding principle that has served me well throughout my career.

Integrity matters for a variety of reasons:

Trust. Integrity builds trust between a company and its customers, employees and stakeholders. Without trust, a business cannot sustain long-term relationships that are critical for success.

Reputation. A reputation for integrity is priceless. It can take years to build and only a moment to destroy. Once lost, it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to regain.

Sustainability. Companies that operate with integrity are more likely to endure. They make decisions not just for short-term gain, but for long-term stability and growth.

Legal and ethical compliance. Operating with integrity means adhering to laws and ethical standards, which protects the company from legal issues and scandals.

Employee morale. A culture of integrity in the workplace fosters employee loyalty and engagement. When employees believe in the integrity of their leaders, they are more committed to the organization.

I have seen firsthand the positive impact that a focus on integrity can have on an organization. It is not just about avoiding wrongdoing; it is about actively doing right by your customers, your employees and the community.

Integrity begins at the top. Leaders must set the example — that alone inspires employees to do right. Enduring leaders know that the numbers will be better if integrity is not optional.

I think all organizations would do well to have the words of motivational author Zig Ziglar emblazoned on their walls: "The foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty." 

Those words should open every business plan that gets written. Stressing values that encourage management and employees alike keeps everyone on the same wavelength. It's not a tall order, it's business as usual. No exceptions. No excuses. No discussion.

In addition, it's smart business to recognize acts of integrity. We should celebrate and reward them just as much or more than financial achievements, increased efficiencies or even a brilliant idea. Make no mistake, when employees understand that management requires integrity, it will become the norm.

But you can't just develop integrity once you are in the workforce. It is an essential value that needs to be stressed starting at a very young age. We teach kids the Golden Rule, but unless we also live it and model it, those lessons are easily lost. Integrity is not something you can turn on and off when you leave the office. It is an all-day, everyday thing.

Here's a final story to illustrate my point:

At a parent-teacher conference, the father of a young student observed, "The worst thing that can happen to a youngster starting school is to be caught cheating."

"Not at all," said the teacher. "The worst thing at the start of a person's life is to cheat and not get caught."

Mackay's Moral: Integrity is not just a personal virtue; it is a corporate asset.

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Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.