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The Power of Integrity

When you give your word to yourself or to others, keep it.  Do not break it, period. That is the secret of success.

Keep Your Word

 From as far back as the mid 1980’s, Ugandan businessmen and women have been traversing the globe looking for the ‘deal’ of their lives. From Kenya to Dubai, to India to China, to London and onto Tokyo, many a hopeful Ugandan businessperson has traveled to fix that deal.  Many have cast their lot but very few have been chosen. The irony is that very few business people know why they have not been chosen. Perhaps let me tell this story in an anecdotal manner.

John and Peter (not real names) started trading in Disco watches in the late 1980’s from Dubai. They were some of the pioneer traders and established very good contacts with their suppliers. After about a year of trading, they were able to access supplier’s credit and their business grew in leaps and bounds. However, after two years they separated their businesses because of a business misunderstanding regarding diversion of funds by Peter. John set up on Luwum Street. Peter set up on William Street as he felt this was more upmarket. They also agreed to separate their supplier accounts and agreed with their Dubai contacts what was outstanding on each of the new accounts.

In about another six months, John was thriving even more. Peter was against the ropes and was running out of stock. The problem – diversion of suppliers funds to other ventures like construction of a huge mansion in Najjanankumbi, purchase of a state of the art Mercedes Benz and his love for luxury. John, on the other hand, kept building on the business steadily and ensured that his suppliers were paid on time. Today as we speak, John owns the building that housed his original business. Peter, on the other hand, works for a sanitary fittings business owned by one Shukla Patel, who was a toddler in India when he first set out in business.

Sounds familiar? This is the story of many failed businesses in East Africa. The proprietors have never appreciated the power of integrity and what it portends for their businesses.  Integrity means many things in business but above all, it means wholesomeness in business dealings. Integrity means honouring business deals, it means delivering quality and it means delivering it on time. In the early days of the stock exchange, there were no electronic boards to record the trades permanently, but the whole survival of the stock exchange was predicated on the actors living by their word. And so the term ‘my word is my bond’ was developed. In the Chinese methodology of business, a deal can only be sealed if you go out and share a meal. No papers, no contracts, no backstabbing. And thus the term Chinese contract was born. The Arabs also settle their deals over coffee. Once a deal has been agreed and the parties say ‘Kalas’ – it is finished, there is no going back.

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According to Scott Hunter, author of  Unshackled Leadership, “….when you have integrity, you can count on yourself, others can count on you, you feel good about you, others feel good about you, and you hold yourself accountable for what you say. That is why with integrity, everything works.”

Do you honor yourself by your word? Do you keep your promises? Do you do what you say you will do as you say you will do it and when you say you will do it by? If you see you operate with integrity, acknowledge yourself and keep up the good work. If you see there is a gap between how you operate in the arena of integrity and how you could operate, get to work bridging the gap. Go back and clean up any areas where you can see you didn’t operate with integrity. Get them all handled and move forward from that point and start operating with integrity.

Unfortunately, our local business people have never appreciated the price of integrity and its potential to deliver the world they have been searching wherever they have set foot. Integrity is very relevant to business because it means that you can be trusted. If you can be trusted, doors will open. You will have access to credit and receive the acceptance form your business acquaintances.

Rodger Constandse, an executive coach has developed some allegorical tips for practicing integrity. He says that one should think of integrity as a banking exercise and provides the following tips for making deposits into your integrity bank account.

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Keep your word

When you give your word to yourself or to others, keep it.  Do not break it, period.

Be careful what you promise

It’s all too easy to make big promises to yourself and to others, but if you are not careful about what you promise it is very hard to actually fulfill them.  Never make a promise you will not be able to keep.

Communicate when circumstances change

Sometimes circumstances will change after you have given your word or made a promise such that you can no longer deliver on what you said.  When this happens, go back to the person(s) to whom you made the commitment to communicate with them about the changes and come to a new agreement on a new commitment.  This is not about making excuses or avoiding responsibility; this is about maintaining your integrity with open communication even when circumstances change.

Be fair

It’s human nature to like some people more than others, or be more comfortable around some people more than others.  No matter how or what you feel about the people around you, always treat others with fairness.  Do not play favorites.

Be careful of your words

It is true that words, once spoken, cannot be taken back, so be very careful of the words you use with others and with yourself.  Stay away from gossip, speculation, trash talk, rumors, and all other kinds of destructive words.  Your words are very powerful, whether you say them out loud or say them in your head, donot make the mistake of using that power inappropriately.

Show respect and courtesy

No matter how mean or dishonest or unlikable you think someone is, always show respect and courtesy.  This does not mean condoning their inappropriate actions or standing by while you watch them mistreat or mislead someone else; rather, it means asserting yourself with integrity when faced with a person whose behavior is inappropriate, but doing so in a respectful way that does not blame, ridicule, or denigrate the other person.

As you make your next foray into business and embark on that journey to China, be sure to start making deposits into your integrity account. And in three years time, come back for your withdrawal and see how far integrity will take you. Good luck.

 

 

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