Sticking to principles

Missed sales targets can be dealt with, but violations of ethics and principles cannot, says Azim Jamal

A tree that is freshly rooted can easily be plucked. A tree that is firmly grounded cannot be removed, even with a crane.

- Sufi poet

When we practise being true to our principles, they become unshakeable and can withstand trying times or temptations knocking on the door. True and enduring success only comes with a strong foundation. The taller the edifice, the deeper and stronger the foundation. The same applies to our lives. Principles come before clients. They come even before family. Henry David Thoreau wrote that a corporation “has no conscience, but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.” Therefore, the individuals who are part of the corporation reflect the corporation’s principles.

Each corporate person has his own background and value system. The leadership should provide the right kind of modelling, training, and orientation that sensitises everyone to the grave importance of keeping firm principles. Ethical principles are the foundation for enduring success. Violations of these ethical principles can potentially tumble even the biggest corporations.

“As a splendid palace deserted by its inmates looks like a ruin, so does a man without character, all his material belongings notwithstanding.”

... Mohandas Gandhi

Our conscience can help us live principle-centered lives when we learn to listen to and to trust its voice. The Sufis speak of a blind horseman who, while riding a horse with his friend, drops his whip. When he reaches down to pick it up, he mistakenly picks up a snake instead. His friend implores him to throw down the snake, but the blind man doubts his companion’s integrity, thinking that he wants the better whip for himself. This lack of trust cost the man his life, as the snake bit him. When we trust the voice of our conscience [our true friend], we are guided well. In our lives, we will face many crossroads—the right path may be long and full of obstacles while the wrong path may be short and clear. If we choose the wrong path, we will achieve success that is temporary and meaningless, but if we opt for the right path, we will achieve fulfilling and sustained success. We should always pay the price and follow the right path.

Our conscience guides us

In a corporation our conscience guides our mission statement and the values and principles emanate from it. As leaders, we get our guidance from this statement, and through self-awareness we remain true to our values. In our corporate lives trust takes two forms. The first is the voice of each corporate person’s conscience, and the second is the trust that we build within our team. We work on eliminating rivalry that can lead team members to lose trust. If our team members are unhappy with their work, they may be tempted to violate their principles. A lot also depends on employee self-concept. When people feel good about themselves, they remain steadfast. As leaders, we can help by catching people doing things right, providing training, and keeping them happy and excited. With this encouragement, we keep the confidence of our team high and encourage them to work with principles, no matter what.

A man who was troubled swore that if his problems were solved, he would sell his house and give the profit to the poor. The time came when he realised that he must redeem his oath. But now he was reluctant to give away so much money, so he thought of a way out. He put his house up for sale for one piece of silver. Included in the deal, however, was a cat. The price tag for this cat was 10,000 pieces of silver. Someone bought the house and the cat. The man gave the single piece of silver to the poor and pocketed the ten thousand pieces of silver for himself. [Idries Shah in The Tales of the Dervishes]. In the preceding Sufi story the man strived to creatively justify a wrong, when in fact, he had not kept his word.

In the final analysis, there is genuine loss of integrity, and, when he looks in the mirror, the man will find a tarnished reflection. In breaking spiritual laws, the act itself becomes a punishment and sets into motion subtle forces whose consequences we cannot escape any more then we can escape the law of gravity. In a corporate setting, when such a kind of creative violation takes place, the company loses its credibility, and this can have grave consequences. Missed sales targets can be dealt with, but violations of ethics and principles cannot. For this reason, we need to weed out the employees who violate the corporate integrity. Tom Peters, the well-known management consultant, says, “There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity.” This is one thing that the corporation cannot compromise. Leaders can encourage and promote training to enhance self confidence, communication, and good relationships, stressing the importance of integrity. A leader needs to send out a loud and clear message that the corporation has a zero tolerance for employees who violate the integrity of the corporation.

Wind speaks not more sweetly to giant oaks than to the least of all blades of grass.

—Kahlil Gibran

Universal respect

If nature is equally respectful to all creation, why do we humans discriminate? Whether it is the executive team or junior staff, respect is important. At my son Tawfiq’s school, the principal, Clive Austin, is a great example of someone who shows love and respect to the students. He knows almost everyone’s first name and builds a bond with each one of the hundreds of children. This remarkable attitude brings out the best in the children.

In a corporation, the way we respect our staff will be the way they respect our customers. When we have a caring heart, people see that and perform better. They feel valued and cared for, and this builds trust. We must remember that every person we meet in our lives is in some way our teacher from whom we can learn. Openness and humility are essential parts of promoting love and respect.

Our respect extends to the environment and having a social conscience. We conserve our natural resources, remembering that the earth has been given to us by our ancestors in trust and that we need to pass it on to our children. We belong to the earth—the earth does not belong to us. Love and respect always win over hate and anger. Martin Luther King said, “We must meet hate with love. An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.” In a corporation, more gets done with love and respect than with bickering and strife. Trust is the glue that holds relationships together. Trust is built from love and respect and is a cornerstone for our future success. Ibn Arabi, the great Sufi Sheikh, says, “I proclaim the religion of Love, and wherever it carries me, this is my creed and my faith.”

Action Items

  • Ensure that the values that are incorporated in the mission and the vision are clearly understood and implemented.
  • Train staff to deal with grey areas and have a process in place to deal with such issues.
  • Apply zero-tolerance for violations of ethics and principles.
  • Create an environment at work that is founded on love and respect. Provide training to staff to improve self concept, teamwork, and camaraderie. Respect all—staff, customers, and even competitors.
  • Do one thing today that is right but difficult to implement.
  • Encourage team members to assume personal accountability and to live the corporate principles.

This was first published in the August 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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