Earl Nightingale once wrote, “If honesty did not exist, it would have to be invented, as it is the surest way of getting rich.” I agree with this because every truly successful person I’ve ever met had a very high level of personal integrity. Sure, I’ve met people who have made a lot of money using standards that were less than perfect, some even unethical, but ultimately those individuals always fell from grace.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n example of what I’m talking about occurred while I was still in the outdoor advertising business. I had a young man working for me as an account executive who was a real go-getter and a top producer, but an incident occurred that caused me to question his integrity and keep a close watch on his activities.
After several months of very high expense reports, I decided to verify the mileage being turned in by the young man. I went out to the parking lot and checked the odometer reading on his car against the reading he had turned in on his latest expense report. There was a wide discrepancy between the two. When I confronted this young man with what I had found, he told me his car was leased and since he was going to have to turn it in soon, he had gotten a friend who worked in a speedometer shop to roll the miles back so he wouldn’t have to pay for going over his allotted miles.
I rejected this young man’s expense report and had a lengthy discussion with him about honesty and integrity. I explained that rolling back the miles on the odometer was no different than stealing from the leasing company. He acted very remorseful and vowed never to do anything like that again, but it left a lingering doubt in my mind.
A few weeks later my friend Zig Ziglar stopped by my office while he was in Asheville conducting a large public seminar. Knowing what a highly principled man Zig is, I thought he could have a positive influence on my young account executive, so I invited him to join us in my office. The young man was tremendously excited to have the opportunity to talk with Zig, who is well known in the area of motivation, personal growth and development.
I recall my young executive asking, “Mr. Ziglar, if you could give me one bit of advice, knowing that I’m just getting started in the business world, what would it be?”
Zig leaned forward, placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “Young man, always, always, maintain a high degree of personal integrity, and you will do just fine.”
Sadly, within a month, I discovered the young account executive had signed a client’s name to an advertising contract in an attempt to win a sales contest. Needless to say, he did not remain with my company, nor did he fare any better during the following years in his next endeavor.
Maintaining integrity is not easy at times. Temptations can arise that make sacrificing integrity financially attractive. I had such a temptation several years ago when I sold an airplane that had been damaged in a hail storm. A prospective buyer who wanted the plane made me an offer and after several back and forth negotiations, we agreed upon a price and shook hands to cement the deal. The buyer said he would need a few days to get his financing in order, and I agreed to give him the time.
As often happens, my integrity was tested the very next day. I received a call from another prospective buyer who had just learned that I might be selling the plane. This buyer was familiar with the aircraft and offered me $100,000 more than what I had just agreed to sell it for the previous day. No contracts had been signed, so it would have been easy for me to back out of the first deal and pocket the extra $100,000, except for one thing: I had integrity. In my mind, the handshake was just as valid as a written contract; therefore, I completed the transaction with the original buyer.
Was it painful? Of course it was! Was it worth it? Without question it was! Sure I could have viewed it as losing $100,000, but I maintained my integrity and I didn’t lose my self-respect.
Here’s a tip! You must develop your own high standards of integrity if you expect to be successful over the long term. Study the lives of people you admire, and you will learn that their most endearing characteristic is their integrity and reliability. They are people who could be counted on to do the right things in difficult times. If you study the lives of people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, you will learn that it was their strength of character that helped them change the world. Ask yourself, how you would have behaved if you were facing the difficulties that they faced?
Today when I think back about that $100,000 I lost on the sale of an airplane, it seems insignificant when compared with the value of maintaining my integrity and good name. I can honestly say that I’ve never regretted the decision and would do it again if the same situation were to arise. It has reinforced my belief that having personal integrity is the surest way to get rich.