Integrity is the new currency for businesses

Vlatka Ariaana Hlupic explains why integrity is so important for leaders, and offers advice for those looking to build better morality at work

Since the Covid pandemic started in 2020, the world has changed. Many people are re-evaluating their purpose, mission and values and want to make a difference for the world and leave a legacy. With increasing self-awareness and elevating consciousness, many people do not want to work in toxic organisational cultures led by uncaring leaders who lack empathy. In the same way, they do not want to buy products from unethical companies. Integrity is now the new currency of business.

It has long been understood that integrity creates trust and trust creates value. Having good honour and character is about having a certain level of integrity. This need for trust and integrity applies to both individuals and organisations. Corporate scandals too often fill the space in the news and more and more consumers are turning their back on companies with a record of unethical behaviour.

Integrity as a new business currency

Honesty and integrity are the new business currencies, and they are priceless. There are two ways to do business: the right way and the wrong way. The right way takes integrity, while the wrong way is a shortcut.

Integrity used to be an important quality in business, but currently it seems that many companies have traded their integrity for money. While some organisations might be getting the short-term rewards of their unethical behaviour, consumers are losing trust in businesses and turning to products with higher integrity values. 

Consumers want businesses to be honest and transparent. They don’t want companies that lie or deceive them. Consumers want businesses they can trust – they want integrity. The same goes for the workplace: staff want leaders they can trust. A business lives and dies by its reputation. And with social media, it is easy to spread the news about businesses without integrity, and one can even find videos on YouTube about companies with the worst reputation or even ‘most hated companies’.

How to keep your integrity as an entrepreneur and leader

The path to success is not always a smooth one. As an entrepreneur, you will face decisions and make choices that will either make or break your business. In fact, the biggest mistake that many entrepreneurs make is compromising their integrity for short-term gain. It might be easy to fall into this trap, particularly when you are in a tough spot financially or when things aren’t going as planned. But it is important to always see the big picture and long-term consequences of short-term inappropriate behaviour.

Dr Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, once said: "Integrity is the only thing that cannot be bought or sold." He was right. And today integrity is even more important than ever before.

There is a fine line between being an honest person and a successful entrepreneur. You can easily cross that line, and when you do, you may lose sight of your values – and your success as well as piece of mind will suffer as a result.

For leaders, the most crucial requirements for establishing integrity in the workplace is to stay focused, honest, lead by example, exhibit ethical behaviour and be a positive example for their peers and employees.

What to do if you feel you might be losing your integrity as a leader

Leaders are expected to be the ones setting an example for their team, but what happens when you feel like you are losing your integrity?

First, it is important to set clear boundaries. If your job requires you to do something that goes against your morals or beliefs, make sure you speak with your CEO or chair about it. A good leader will not expect you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. However, if they are adamant about you doing something in particular that makes you feel uncomfortable, let them know that it is not going to happen. If needed, leave the position if it is not something that you can compromise on.

It is also important to display and model ethical behaviour. One of the easiest ways to do this is to foster an ethical environment. Ethical behaviour is correlated with better results – and it is infectious. When your employees know you have their back, they are more likely to go above and beyond for the company. They also will not want to disappoint you, so they will make ethical choices throughout the day simply because they do not want to let you down. This creates a virtuous cycle that will boost your business performance in all areas.

General tips for leaders who are looking to build integrity into their workplace include:

  • Create relationships that are trustworthy and respectful

  • Work hard, admit your mistakes, and learn from them

  • Be the authentic role model for integrity

  • Set clear boundaries

  • Exhibit ethical behaviour

  • Talk openly and honestly

  • Take a stand for your beliefs

  • Express your own personality

  • Be clear and concise in your communication

As the world of business continues to change, integrity is becoming more and more important. In fact, it may soon be the most important currency a business has. Businesses that are honest and transparent will thrive in the future. They will also gain customer trust, which will lead to profits and a lasting brand presence and good reputation.

Vlatka Ariaana Hlupic is professor of leadership and management at Hult International Business School (Ashridge) and founder and CEO of Management Shift Solutions