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VIEWPOINT: Of Goldfish, Genetics And Integrity

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‘May you live in interesting times.’ This purported Chinese curse rings true with every new media report raising fundamental questions around the integrity our country’s political leadership

The frequency of enquiries into the conduct of many of our country’s leadership figures unfortunately overrides public perception of most other − albeit excellent − work done by dedicated public servants who want a better South Africa for all. And with every decision made, our leaders fuel much-needed growth or devastating recession.

Integrity. Trustworthiness. Ethics. These are three cornerstones of a sustainable, safer society where business thrives and political stability stands rock-solid.

I venture that integrity is the most important attribute I − we − should have. It is the basis for a mentality of service to others, above self.

It arms a track record to stands up to scrutiny – which every leader inevitably faces. It translates into, What I say I do, is what I truly do. In business, integrity means a product or service entirely fulfils what it promises to clients who put their faith − and funds − into it.

Ever had a goldfish? Its development is governed by its environment − toxicity and abnormal hormone levels in its water limit its growth. Ever consider your DNA? Epigenetic studies prove environmental factors such as nutrients, toxins and exercise determine the way in which many genes function, activating or silencing them.

Clearly, environment is key to how we think, behave and grow. The environment’s leaders create are akin to a climate that feeds or kills integrity, trustworthiness and ethics.

Experiments by renowned behavioural economist Professor Dan Ariely show that given the opportunity to choose honesty or dishonesty in an enticing context, subjects are guided less by their own principals and more by whether they could be caught or judged as dishonest.

It’s a truth we know well in South Africa: if our environment accepts a lack of integrity as normal, some people justify and perpetuate this ‘norm’.

Integrity means doing the right thing when no-one is watching. Integrity means honouring your employment contract, delivering on projects and hours you’re paid for − particularly when your salary is paid by tax-payers.

It means respect for others. And, it means constructing an environment that allows for growth, and rewards truth and fairness − no matter how hard they may be to uphold.

YOU ONLY HAVE ONE CHANCE TO WALK YOUR TALK

When it comes to integrity and ethics, something priceless is at stake – your reputation. Remember, you only get one chance at conveying your integrity to others. Once deceit is uncovered society offers little forgiveness. Is that worth the short-term gains that deceit may deliver? Be the person who sets a better example and adds to the creation of an environment where integrity, like a goldfish or genetic expression, can reach its greatest potential. I challenge us all to be people who set the bar high and walk the integrity talk, all the way.

Leadership Advisor

Brett Tromp CA(SA)

CFO of Discovery Health

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