In recent weeks, many things have happened in my private life that have led to a profound reflection on the importance of principles and the place integrity has in our society. At work and in life, integrity is synonymous with consistency and trust. Just as important as empathy, integrity is one of the pillars of leadership.
Principles and values are often confused, but while the boundaries between values may often vary depending of the context, boundaries governing principles are immutable. Otherwise, those are no principles at all. This is a lesson that I learned early in my life, but was reminded a few years ago, at an event I attended and where Robert Dutton, one of the very few men of principles in the public sphere, was a speaker. Ever noticed that, even though corporate values are often communicated to employees, the principles for which the companies stand for very rarely are?
Maybe it’s laziness? After all, the commitment required of leaders to enforce these principles within their teams would cost too much effort? If that’s the case, it says a lot about our society and the kind of leaders it comes up with…
Principles may be austere and unconventional nowadays, because of too little recognition or encouragement, but I know from experience how principles can be a source of inspiration for those who experience them first-hand. And it’s simple to explain. Principles expose another important quality: the fundamental notion of RESPONSIBILITY and that, even stronger, of COHERENCE.
To act according to our principles, when everything is fine, is not difficult. The principles are tested and reinforced when hardships hit. It is during tough times that people can see what they are made of … and when they can also observe what their LEADERS are made of. There are many cases in history showing that when a storm breaks out, a consistant leader will be able to demand the impossible from his people who will push through, not out of interest, but out of conviction.
Conversely, a leader who always changes his mind according to which way the wind blows and begins to take ethical shortcuts to survive the storm will invariably lose the trust of its employees. Similarly, a company with good values, but with “elastic” principles, cannot keep its most honest employees mobilized in the long run, thus creating a corporate culture that promotes politics and values personal interests.
And you, what are your principles?