“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” – Warren Buffet

So why did Buffet say that? I’m guessing you can think of numerous reasons why. MCI Worldcom. Tyco. Enron. Arthur Andersen. Firms on Wall Street a few years back. Most were great companies at one point in time, but then personal integrity fell by the wayside and money became more important to their leaders than obligations to the community. With energy and incredible intelligence, they made significant sums of money, but via decisions that may violate your moral code.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media focuses on negative stories, so we don’t get to hear about people with exemplary personal integrity. But they do exist all around us: your former grad school professor, the chair of the board of your child’s school, or, your best friend. Look around you. With more focus, you’ll recognize more and more each day who these individuals are.

What is personal integrity?

To me, it is honesty, trustworthiness, humility, and accepting one’s self. It is how your actions match what is morally right.

How can you live a life full of personal integrity?

Establish Your Own Moral Code – This can take many shapes, but it is very important that you feel strongly about it and are willing to live it…every day. For some of you, it could be a 15-word sentence, similar to company mission statements. For others, it could be eight short statements that you write down and carry with you. I have a personal moral code and the mission, value proposition, and vision of my company were all born from it. No matter the verbiage or format you choose, you must live the code everyday. Consistency in action is paramount.

Be Transparent – An open-door policy will show that you have nothing to hide. It’ll also show that you care for others through thick and thin. If you have a tendency to close your office door, consider management by walking around. Spend more time out of your office and consciously leave the door open when you aren’t in a meeting. More personally, don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. People want to be led by people that are trustworthy. Younger generations want leaders to be open about events that happen in their family life just as much as they want a professional mentor.

Take Responsibility – As humans, we all have the right to make mistakes. A person who admits to and learns from a mistake ranks higher in my book than someone who tries to cover up the mistake. Making a mistake once is not a bad thing (in fact, I encourage it), it is how we learn and become better. Making the same mistake multiple times shows that you aren’t learning. Show your humility by openly sharing your learning from your mistakes. Not only will you be building trust, you’ll be sharing ideas that will help others avoid the pitfalls you encountered.

Lead by Example – Consistently modeling the character required of a leader will help you be better at operating with integrity. If the people around you are not integrity-driven, blaze a new trail. You’ll be surprised at how many people will begin to follow you. By truly knowing and accepting yourself, i.e. your strengths, motivators, and behaviors, you will be comfortable with ambiguity. Leading others often means encountering moments you’ve never dealt with. Being able to look deep within to summon the strength to charge forward when retreating back seems the easier play takes considerable intelligence and energy. Showing your personal integrity will only endear the followers to you more.

From this moment forward, you have a choice. You can continue down the path of least resistance, or you can blaze trails. You can be hired for your energy and intelligence. Or, you can behired for your integrity, energy, and intelligence. Writing down your moral code, being transparent, taking responsibility for your actions, and leading by example are ways that you can ensure that you are hired, retained, and continually praised because you displayed exemplary personal integrity…for years to come.