In my teaching career, I have taught a course on business values and ethics to university students. What surprised me the most is that, in one take-home group assignment, some students simply downloaded articles from the internet and submitted them as their own. I had warned them against doing so, but they went ahead and did it. I wondered if I was teaching values and ethics to the students in vain. Would the course change mindsets and behaviours? Would it make the students better members of society? Does having high moral and ethical standards have to be learnt or is it innate? Do parents teach integrity as a value? Why do we often fail to do that which we know is right?
Integrity is one of the key values that can make our society a better place for all. In the workplace, we want employees with high integrity; in our families, we want everyone to have high moral standards; and even in public service, integrity is precious. When we have integrity, we uphold strong moral principles and behave ethically. We are honest and truthful with ourselves and others. We can be trusted to do that which is right, even when no one is watching. We decline to do that which is wrong, despite the consequences. We are dependable, we can be counted on to do what we say we will do. We make the right decisions based on outcomes that go beyond our personal gains. When we lack integrity, we cannot be trusted and our decisions and actions are often ill-motivated.
In every organization that I have worked with, there are many policies, procedures, internal controls, and audits. These interventions deter people from doing what is not right. I recall working at a restaurant and having to count chicken among other store items at the start and end of every shift. The kitchen staff had a habit of stealing. In many organizations, expenses have to go through several approvals to seal loopholes. Primary school students who steal pens and pencils can be said to lack integrity. University students who empty sugar dishes from restaurants or copy assignments lack integrity. Employees who steal time, money, or other items from their employers lack integrity. Businesses that cook their books lack integrity. The list is endless. I believe that integrity is a choice we make. From an early age, we learn to choose honesty instead of telling lies. Every day we choose what to do and what not to. Those with a personal moral conviction to do that which is right find it easy to make the right decisions. They are not easily compromised. Their everyday actions are consistent with a strong value system engraved in their being.
A few days ago, we went through our general elections and chose our political leaders. Interestingly, all the leaders were cleared by the integrity watchdog. In addition, these leaders will sign and commit to integrity codes and their oaths of office during the swearing-in. Some who have been in previous regimes have had their integrity questioned. Others joining public service for the first time will have their integrity put to test. We expect that our leaders will humble themselves, be honest, put the interests of the country above their own, respect all, do that which is right, and make decisions that are beneficial to the citizens thus leave a legacy of integrity!
Dr Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via Twitter @KiruthuLucy