Integrity and character in human services

By Abdul Seraaj and Dr. Danita Stapleton

IntegrityThe word integrity signifies honesty, fairness, transparency, and principled actions. The result is that everyone benefits.

At the crux of a prosperous organization is ethical leadership. At Seraaj Family Homes, Inc. (SFH), we emphasize having good character expectations at the onset of a worker’s interest in our organization, because employee integrity and character are the keys to quality service provision. Such emphasis continues throughout the worker’s tenure. Thus, employees at the executive and senior management level must continue to demonstrate the values they expect from the organization’s other members.

The Thought for the Day, a short email of encouragement or wisdom from SFH’s CEO, frequently underscores the importance of integrity and character as it relates to developing and maintaining a strong consumer/customer base, building strong teams, and instilling organizational pride.

Human service professionals serve vulnerable and disadvantaged populations. Thus, their clients require meaningful assistance, validation, empowerment, and advocacy from a person with integrity. Workers who serve with integrity appreciate the vital role trust plays in helping these relationships.

Members with integrity are honest, genuine, and just. They promptly acknowledge shortcomings, are humble, and hasten to rectify pressing concerns. Above all, to the extent possible, they avoid breaching confidentiality.

C.S. Lewis, best known for his literally works, once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

This rightness encompasses not only the soundness of professional decision-making, but the accuracy of oral and written communication, financial transactions, and submission of work hours.

Integrity and good character are interwoven traits. A person with integrity has good character. A person of good character has integrity. SFH is contractually and legally mandated to hire workers with good character. SFH members must have no history of child abuse and neglect or criminal backgrounds. Recruiting and maintaining members of good character is not easy. Hence, leadership must work diligently to both cultivate and celebrate it.

Good character is manifested through actions and choices. Good character is comparable to a badge on the garment of an official. It is visible and discernable at all times.

character-building-1At SFH, employees with good character possess the following qualities:

  • Courage – having the willingness to stand up for what is right and good even if your position is not popular
  • Loyalty – being faithfulness to consumers, customers, and organizational members
  • Fortitude – being disciplined and urgently determined to endure until a task is complete
  • Empathy – identifying with the thoughts, feelings, and struggles of others
  • Compassion – stepping beyond empathy; responding with unconditional and holistic care
  • Peacefulness – striving to maintain diplomatic relationships and environments; being a part of the solution versus being the problem
  • Self-control – striving to keep one’s emotions in check, particularly those that are detrimental to SFH’s mission
  • Self-sacrificing vs. Self-serving – understanding that personal gain is not the sole motivator for actions or practice decisions
  • Accountability – assuming full responsibility for the job one is being paid to perform and does so to the best of one’s ability
  • Straightforwardness –not tolerating or concealing the corruption of others

Poor character is comparable to a poor credit rating. It can close doors to desired opportunities. It can create presumptions about credibility and personal accountability. It can take years to repair.

President Abraham Lincoln said, “Reputation is the shadow. Character is the tree.”

Lastly, human service agencies cannot maintain a competitive edge without a proficient and accountable Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) program. CQI personnel unceasingly search for threats to quality service delivery. They adhere to the notion of encouraging what is right and forbidding what is wrong. They are guided by a belief in the following proverb: “Without accountability the seeds of corruption are sown.”

SFH’s CQI program serves as an external compass for quality service provision. When used in conjunction with workers’ internal moral compasses, the program strives to create a work culture free of corruption. Lack of integrity and character are major risk factors, adversely impacting morale, consumer/customer satisfaction, and growth and sustainability. These factors are insidious and can destroy the fiber of human services organizations.