The one value that surfaces doing strategic consulting and coaching sessions for business and leaders, on both a collective and personal level, is that almost every leader aspires to live by integrity. However, we have found that how different leaders and businesses define Integrity, think about it, live it and act on it could materially result in either moral or immoral behaviour. Let me illustrate this by the stories of two people, Mr Moral Right and Mr Moral Wrong.

Meet Mr Moral Wrong. For those who knew him in the business world, he seemed to be a person of high integrity and truly “above the board”. But in 2008 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined for insider trading. His two sons, Dishonesty and Corrupt were also convicted of felonies. News reports at the time recounted how trading stock tips over coffee breaks had resulted into a material deception that engulfed Mr Moral Wrong, his two sons and several business associates.

Contrast this to Mr Moral Right’s story. He is currently the CEO of an Investment Company, a highly respected and admired financial services company. Moral Right tells his New Gen staff that when he was in university, it occurred to him that it would be useful for him to decide what principles and values he would honour as he enters his CA (SA) career. He said that he can still recall where he was walking on campus when he had the insight. He said: “I decided that I would live by three principles. First, when faced with a major decision, I would try to do what is best for society, next, what was best for the business and finally, I would consider my own needs. Second, I decided that until I was 35, when faced with a career decision, I would choose the opportunity that will allow me to learn the most and secondly would consider the money involved. Third, I vowed to take all my vacations!”

When Mr Moral Right and Mr Moral Wrong were both university students, we imagine it would have been difficult to see any major differences between them – both from similar backgrounds, both very ambitious and excited about moving into a business career. But Moral Right deliberately charted his life course in a way that Moral Wrong apparently neglected. One is now the CEO of a highly valued business, the other participating in a government sponsored residential programme – imprisonment.

In recent years companies have discovered the value of emotional intelligence (EI) to their business success. However, Lennick and Kiel have recently found in their studies that EI is not enough: Only leaders with strong moral intelligence (MI) can build trust and commitment that are the foundation of a truly great business. The best performing companies have leaders with a strong moral compass and the ability to follow it – even in a world that may reward bad behaviour in the short run, as is clear from Mr Moral Right and Mr Moral Wrong stories. Moral intelligence is not just important for effective leadership – it is the central intelligence for all humans. Why? Because moral intelligence directs our other forms of intelligence to do something worthwhile.

Now a very important question for our New Generation CA is what is moral intelligence? Lennick and Kiel define moral intelligence as “not only knowing right from wrong, but also doing versus knowing”. Most of us know right from wrong. So why don’t we act appropriately more often? Most of us do – most of the time. However, it is during the times when we are challenged with a major moral decision and have no deliberate moral compass, that we tend to stray from doing right.

Another important question that you need to ask is: “How can I develop my moral intelligence?”.

1) First you need to look inside your Moral Mirror and identify whether you are happy with the image you see.

2) Second you need to instil a moral compass within you – a set of deeply held beliefs, values and goals that drives your personal and professional life. Values that are important to live by include:

  • Be honest no matter what.
  • Stand up for what is right.
  • Be responsible and accountable for your actions.
  • Care about the welfare of those that you work with: the cleaners, the security guard, your peers, your seniors and your clients.
  • Own up to your mistakes and failures.

3) Third it is important to understand that developing your moral skills is not only an essential element for successful leadership, but also a business advantage. The most successful leaders in any company are likely to be trustworthy individuals, who have a strong set of moral beliefs and the ability to put them into action. Even in a world that occasionally rewards bad behaviour, the fastest way to build a successful business is to hire those people with the highest moral and ethical skills you can find.

My grandpa was a simple but very wise and moral man. My mother often refers back to his words that I aspire to live by:

” My child it is better to wake up every morning, poor and with a clean conscious, knowing that I have nothing to hide, than to lie awake at night in riches, haunted by my immoral behaviour.”

Valuable resources:

Lennick, D, Kiel, F (2008). Moral Intelligence. Enhancing Business Performance and Leadership Success.

Adel du Plessis CA(SA), is part of Therapeia, a coaching, training and consulting business that is passionate about the human capital development of corporate companies and individuals through emotional intelligence, leadership development, authentic image and presence.