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  • Raghav Sand

Individual and Institutional Integrity

Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, irrespective of the situation. Strong and stable institutions are built by men and women who have impregnable ethics and not the other way round. An organisation’s culture is neither built overnight, nor is it available at a convenience store near you. It takes years to build the ethos and nurture future leaders. Every day in a person’s life is different from the previous one, but the period of transition from one phase to another holds great significance.

When everyone follows the rules, the credibility of the system improves. As and when there is a breach, the offender must be dealt without any favour or fear. Sometimes, a law-abiding citizen is perceived as weak and scared. For anyone who thinks on these lines or even remotely subscribes to such a school of thought, a polite reminder: you can do better than this.

Individual integrity is not as easy as it looks like and it is certainly not as difficult as it is professed. Warren Buffett is renowned for his investing acumen and a sense of humour. Buffett once said that, if you are trying to associate yourself with people, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And, if they don’t have integrity, the other two qualities will destroy you. We cannot instantly become wise from Buffett’s wisdom, but we can surely learn from his experience.

Political and business leaders talk a lot about creating a level playing field and establishing the rule of law. There is prophetic perfection in propagating integrity – a feel good factor. Some say it just for the sake of it, while a select group of people devote their best years to uphold collective moral consciousness. In the early years of our lives, we are unaware about how work gets done in institutions. As we grow older, our interface with public and private institutions increases manifold. Slowly and steadily, we start building perceptions. Prevalence of way of doing things seem like the norm. Whether it is fair or unfair means and ways, we start to accept the reality and act accordingly.

Every now and then, we keep hearing news about misappropriation of public money. Most people believe that only Government funds are public money. They fail to realise that loss from corporate fraud effects their fortune and savings. Shares of large corporate entities are held by pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds, municipal corporations, individual investors, etc. Every passing decade, the width and depth of corporate fraud is growing exponentially. C-suite executives and auditors, both internal and external, are individuals who collude to divulge the facts. Shareholders believe that the people charged with the governance of the enterprise will act in good faith. And, when they don’t, no amount of fine or duration of imprisonment for the guilty can rebuild their trust or recover their losses.

We put unreasonable faith in others. Public figures have to deal with expectations on a daily basis. An admirer of a chief executive of a big corporation may be doing all sorts of irregular work, but he would expect his hero to be spotless. An ardent supporter of a scandalous politician would be completely out of sync with basic laws, but he would want a noble man as the supreme leader of his land. Similarly, a sports fan would be wagering on a match through improper channels, but he would want his star player to be ethical. Aren’t you expecting too much from people just like yourself? None of the people you idolise have fallen from the skies. They are made from the same flesh and blood as you are. How should they be any different?

The only thing that separates the winners from followers is the drive and determination for success. I have observed people feeling disheartened and demotivated when they witness one of their heroes take a disgraceful fall. The world as we know it, has many righteous men and women, but they seem to lack the courage to do the right thing. Ironically, the bad guy is fearless and forthright. Integrity is not an ornament that should be worn on important occasions or kept inside a locker. If you believe something is wrong, then make good use of your observational and organisational skills to make things right. What stops you? Are you waiting for the Dashavartra (The tenth incarnation of Lord Vishnu) or yet another accidental leader?

Intent or content in isolation don’t make a leader. The right balance of intellect and enthusiasm are required to devise and deliver the plan and results, respectively. The best part of democracy is that all of us have just one vote, no less and no more. Choose better leaders or become one. If you have integrity and intelligence, make the most of it. Outsourcing essential activities to others dilutes the quality of output of an organisation. Similarly, if we keep relying on inept individuals, the quality of our life will keep moving in the wrong direction.

As individuals, we have the responsibility and opportunity to change the course our lives. Do a few things on your own and then find like-minded people to collaborate. Revolution and the urge for change demands dedication and sacrifice. For those of you who feel social media posts or outbursts are a step in the right direction, let me tell you what I feel about keypad pseudo warriors. You are doing nice PR exercise for yourself, but ultimately its all for a lost cause. Change was, is, and will never be brought by half hearted approach and wishful thinking. Develop integrity to expect it from others and if you think something deserves your attention and activism, please try to uphold the integrity of institutions around you. Almost everything else will keep delivering good results, even if they are left on autopilot.

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