Measuring our Integrity

Developing self-respect and personal Integrity

By Fred Smith

SELF-RESPECT IS THE KEY INDICATOR of our integrity as a person. Without personal integrity, it is impossible to have integrity in leading others.
Defining self-respect is difficult, yet it is the most important of all forms of respect. It is the foundation of our accepting any other respect. We feel tentative about the respect that comes from others until we genuinely respect ourselves. After I spoke to a group of corporate officers, several of us gathered around for a bull session. One of the CEOs, with his tongue loosened by spirits from a bottle, said, "Fred, you talk a lot about self-respect. How do you define it?"
"I can't give you a dictionary definition," I said, "but I can tell you how I know if I've got it. When I wake up at three o'clock in the morning, I talk to the little guy inside me who is still simple, honest, and knows right from wrong. He hasn't rationalized enough to become sophisticated. He still sees things in black and white. He is the honest me. When we can talk freely, I know we respect who I am. When he turns away and won't talk to me, I know I'm in trouble. If he says, 'Get lost, you're a phony,' I know that I've lost my self-respect."
Instantly the CEO jumped out of his chair, circled it, and said, "Man, you done plowed up a snake!" Evidently his night dialogues were troubling him. A few months later, I understood his response better when I read he was under investigation.
Integrity is based in character. It cost me a lot of money in a bad investment to learn that character is more important in leadership than intelligence. I had mistakenly put intelligence above character. Intelligence is important, but character is critical. One of America's wealthiest investors said at Harvard that the three qualities he looks for in those with whom he will invest his money are character, intelligence, and energy.
Character is so important because it cannot be fully evaluated but will fail at the time when we can least afford it. It is almost impossible to buttress weak character.
My experience has brought me to a controversial belief about character: Character is sectionalized like a grape-fruit, not homogeneous like a bottle of milk. When we say a person has a strong character or a weak character, we assume that their character is of one piece of cloth. I have not found this to be true. Some totally honest in business are hypocritical in personal life. Some are trustworthy in one section of their life and untrustworthy in another. It has been important to my leadership that I build on the solid parts of a person's character. Few people indeed have all good sections, and few have no good sections at all. I've always been intrigued by the story that Willie Sutton, the bank robber, cried when he had to lie to his mother about where he was. Criminals often exhibit impeccable loyalty to their own. Gang members will die for their gang. They will endure torture to maintain confidentiality.
Fortunately, God is the great strengthener of character. As the ancients say, God polishes his saints with tribulation, suffering, trials, and silence. I am convinced that God is much more interested in our character than he is in our intelligence, for character is of the heart. Scripture says, "Out of the heart come the issues of life." We are urged to guard our hearts and minds because character counts. When we talk with that little guy in the middle of the night we want an easy conversation — and even a laugh or two. Fortunately, the little guy never changes even though the big guy may. The little guy always remains the moral compass.