As an entrepreneur, your personal integrity is critical for getting and keeping the support of investors and team members, and your company’s integrity is critical for getting and keeping customers and vendors. But in a practical sense, what does that really mean?
Most definitions of integrity include something like “the quality of being honest and morally upright.” Yet, I’ve found through experience that both honesty and morality are relative terms, depending on the reference point of both the speaker and the receiver. In business, the only view that counts is that of the receiver.
For example, it may not be easy to see when you are being blinded by money in closing a deal, but it’s easy for everyone else to see it. Here are some specifics that that help team members, investors, vendors, and customers to see a high level of entrepreneurial integrity in you at all times:
Meet your commitments. As an entrepreneur, when you are late with a committed business plan or meeting with an investor, you lose integrity. As a company, if your customer feels you did not meet your product quality commitment, your company loses integrity. Your view or reason doesn’t matter.
Honest to a fault. This term is usually used to mean honest as seen by other people. Some think honesty is only related to what is said, but not telling the whole truth is dishonest, even in court. If you can’t deliver a service because of your company’s mistake, integrity suggests that you include the real reason in your apology.
Strong and consistent moral code. The target here is to meet the receiver’s moral code expectation. If your product or process is marginal or worse, you will lose that customer. If you are trying to find an investor for your new gambling site, you probably will be disappointed.
Treat everyone with respect. No one likes to be dis-respected (from their perspective). Respect is difficult to define in the abstract, but quick to be recognized by the receiver. Be courteous and considerate to all on cultural differences, positions, races, ages, or any other types of distinctions.
Build and maintain trust. Trust is a reliance relationship built on character, strength, and ability. It usually takes several good acts to build, and one bad act to lose. To build company trust, you need to personalize your company. People do business with people. Even internationally-known brands are judged daily by the quality of their people.
Integrity must start at the helm, and then it can percolate down through the deepest layers and become the heart and soul of the company’s culture. If the entrepreneur who runs the company does not have integrity, a startup usually falters.
Only people who don’t have integrity think it’s hard to detect. Lack of integrity is one of the easiest qualities to detect in people and companies you meet. It only takes a few actions or choices to set, but it will take many actions to reset if you go wrong. In business, it’s one of the most sought after qualities by customers and vendors.
In order to succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to have a good idea and the leadership to make it happen, and you need to demonstrate integrity at all times. In the words of President Eisenhower, "The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionable integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office". Or as Alan K. Simpson said, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.”