5 Keys to On-the-Job Success: No. 3 – Cultivate a Sense of Personal Integrity

Cultivating a sense of personal integrity is a quality that, when tarnished, is hard to return to its original luster. And when it is lost altogether, is very difficult to recover. A person’s integrity is wrapped up in their truthfulness about all matters, their honesty in dealing with people and projects, and their reliability to honor their word. Personal integrity is not a badge people wear on the outside, but it is more a reflection of the deeper nature of their character and moral, ethical fiber.

And personal integrity and personal ethics are not just about following the company’s code of ethics, if it has one. Personal integrity involves an ability to control impulses, to delay gratification, and to exhibit self-restraint; it’s about thinking through the consequences of potential actions and a willingness to assume responsibility if those actions are acted upon. Bernie Madoff didn’t have it; neither did the executives for WorldCom or Enron. The newspapers, Internet, cable news channels, and Facebook are filled with such stories on smaller scales every day.

Personal integrity isn’t a matter of degree where a failure to be forthright on a résumé can be dismissed away as a relative minor infraction. You either have personal integrity or you don’t. Managers routinely search court records, credit histories, Google, and social networking sites to glean information about potential candidates or current employees. Ultimately, they want to know “Who are you when no one’s looking?” Companies are not required to disclose the reasons for rejecting any potential candidate, and states with “at will” hiring laws can reject applicants for the most minute impropriety. You may never really know the reason why you didn’t get a job offer. It may have more to do with the goof post and picture you put up on Facebook more so than any shortcoming in your experience or knowledge. I and many other hiring managers will gladly extend an offer to someone who has high personal integrity but may lack some essential skills before we hire the whizz kid who, shall we say, lacks mature discretion about what he or she makes public about his or her personal life.

Conscientiousness is a trait that is critical for noteworthy effectiveness for any job, regardless of profession or position. Daniel Goleman writes in Working with Emotional Intelligence that “Conscientiousness offers a buffer against the threat of job loss in today’s ever-churning market, because employees with this trait are among the most valued.”[1]

Excessive conscientiousness (that is, conscientiousness without empathy or social competency) can be manifested in rigid conformity that suppresses creativity, fosters resentment from others, and the overbearing weight of micromanagement. When a conscientious member of my team needed to run errands in the morning, or attend a child’s school event, it was no problem to let them do so without having to make them take a half-day’s vacation (what the company guidelines said I had to do). I knew that such absences would not affect their work because their personal integrity and conscientiousness spoke louder than the company’s firm policy. While a “manager’s prerogative” wasn’t written into the policy, I (and other managers) assumed it was available to us.

Personal integrity, then, is reflected in ethical actions,  behavior that is above reproach, reliable trustworthiness, personal responsibility, and intolerance for unethical actions committed by others.

Because we don’t hire résumés; we hire people.


[1] Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Books (1998), p. 94.

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