Buffett’s Definition of Integrity

When Warren Buffett is out on the hunt trying to find new companies to buy, he specifically looks for two main categories in every CEO: integrity and energy.

The benefit of having energy is quite obvious – every good leader and entrepreneur needs the stamina to take them through the tough times, plus they need energy to help them navigate the good times.

But Buffett has a very intriguing way of looking at the second requirement – integrity, and the way that he defines it. He says integrity is the ability to say no.

One of the company’s Warren Buffett bought was the Pampered Chef, whose founder is Doris Christopher. In the beginning, she said no to runaway growth when her company started taking off. She felt that the business needed to take a year for consolidation. During that time, she did not take on any more customers or people. That takes a lot of guts.

Are there many corporate executives that can display this level of integrity? If someone is asked to sell a product that they do not believe is good enough, will they refuse? If someone is required to head up a project without the right staff for funding, do they take on the challenge and point out its flaws?

Although only defining the word integrity as just saying no may seem simple enough, but in truth, we all know that it’s quite difficult. People have student loans that they need to pay off. They have to pay their monthly mortgages every month. Everybody is looking to get ahead, climb the corporate ladder and build their resume. As a matter of fact, most people look at doing a good job as doing exactly what they are told.

Yet, if the company is looking to hire employees with integrity, they need to offer conditions where it is acceptable to argue, question authority and refuse to do things if applicable.

This creates a very serious challenge for leaders. If nobody ever refuses or disagrees, then the leader will be surrounded with people that do not possess the adequate amounts of integrity. But you have to wonder… Did they begin this way, or did the organization create these people? If a decision is unanimous, this should only happen when it is blindingly obvious. In any other situation it happens because the majority of the people in the room aren’t contributing anything to the cause.

In most organizations, there is going to be some form of friction, but unfortunately it usually takes place around the wrong type of issues like food or parking spaces. A company that is resilient and robust should know that debates and arguments are needed in order to make the correct decisions. If nobody ever says no does the company actually have any integrity at all? If so, how much?