Laying the foundation of an honest organization built with strong integrity and ethics is important to set the culture, direction and priorities for any new company.
The lead has to be taken by the leader of a company by setting the right example and setting the right standards.
Honesty is Black or White - There is no Grey
To me, honesty is a simple black and white subject. There neither is grey in honesty nor is there any shade of white and black as I have heard many people say. Either you are honest or dishonest.
I tell my young colleagues that before they leave home morning when they are alone shaving and look in the mirror, can they look at themselves directly in the eye and tell themselves
“I did no wrong yesterday and I did not knowingly harm anyone yesterday and I was honest with myself”
This I believe is the only explanation they would ever need to give to themselves. What anyone else thinks of them or their actions is of no relevance and does not matter. My advice to my young colleagues is
“If someone asks you to compromise your own ethical standards or asks you to do something you don’t think is correct, hear them out. You don’t have to implement their decision if you disagree. Go with your conscience. What you think is right is what the organization expects from you. You can’t please everyone”.
Threshold of Conscience
As I progressed through my early working life, I began to understand that honesty had shades of grey and each person had his own threshold of conscience.
I have often argued with colleagues and others whether using a company car to drop children to school or to take your wife shopping or charging a personal expense as official entertainment or converting a business class ticket into two economy tickets when travelling overseas on company work so that your partner can fly free is right or wrong.
These are examples of when we change our own threshold of conscience to suit our own needs. We accept a position that we would normally not accept for our subordinates. We would also not accept this as correct if we hear someone else has done something similar. Then how can we rationalize this for ourselves?
As long as my own conscience is clear and as long as I know that I am doing what I think is right, I will keep moving forward.
I have recognized that very often in order to get work done, I have to accept what is the normal pattern of working in our country and I have learned not to question why most times, favours need to be done to get what is yours by right and not because you are asking for something to be done that is incorrect or out of turn.
A senior bureaucrat in a South East Asian country once told me that there was no corruption in his country. They believed in the philosophy of Cooperation, not Corruption.
“If you are going to do business in my country and make a profit, you need to cooperate and share a part of this profit with us”, he said. Quite an interesting perspective though not necessarily something to be emulated anywhere.
Gifting is another area where can always interpret several shades of grey. In our country, it is almost a culture to give gifts at Diwali every year and if a gift is not accepted, it is seen as an affront by the person giving the gift. Yet, if the person who the gift is for makes it abundantly clear that gifts are not welcome, then the practice of giving gifts comes to a stop.
In conclusion, the leader sets the standards for integrity and honesty in any organization or indeed in any family. If the leader willingly compromises his ethical standards it is impossible to expect people down the line or other members of the family to comply to a dual standard.
The author is the Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of the bestselling books, The Corner Office and The Buck Stops Here. Twitter: @gargashutosh