The Crucial Role of Financial Integrity in Personal and Professional Success

Photo by Mohamed Masaau on  Unsplash

Photo by Mohamed Masaau on Unsplash

Today’s post is about a topic that most people, even highly educated and successful people, often know very little about or pay little attention to. It is about how personal financial habits have far-reaching implications on the quality of your life and the amount of career satisfaction you will experience, no matter where you are on your journey. This post is not about necessarily elevating one method over any others, but just about the value of financial integrity in general, how it has benefited The Ghannad Group personally and professionally, and how it can do the same for you. And fair warning: this is going to be a long one.

To be transparent, I was a bit hesitant to publish this post. It uses successes that we have experienced as a family and a business as an example of the importance of financial integrity, and that level of personal detail can be a little strange in the context of business blogs. On the other hand, we are a small family business, so divorcing the personal from the professional is pretty much impossible in our case. Another reason I was hesitant to make this post is that I thought it may come across as a little boastful about what we have accomplished, despite this not being my intention. However, after receiving dozens of very encouraging notes and comments on YouTube, and an overwhelming number of positive comments from friends and acquaintances telling us just how inspired they were by our experience, I decided that sharing the keys to our success with those who have an abundance mentality was more important than protecting the feelings of those with a scarcity mentality. I hope that this post inspires those who could benefit from it, and encourages you to boldly declare, courageously pursue, and abundantly achieve the extraordinary!

We live in a world where most people drag themselves to work simply because they need the paycheck and they don’t see any other way to make ends meet. We work not because we want to or because we are enthusiastic about making a difference, but simply because we have to participate in what many would consider a form of “paid slavery.” Some fantasize about someday finding their dream job or starting their own business, while others have resigned themselves to the status quo and have lost hope that life could ever get any more satisfying.

The truth is, career satisfaction is not just about discovering your passion or finding the right employer or the right business to start. Ultimately, it is about finding the courage—and the means—to pursue the opportunity to make a living by doing what you love. One of the key factors that keeps us from making a bold career move is that we have no margin in our finances and, consequently, our risk tolerance is minimal or nonexistent. Therefore, we begrudgingly opt for the safety and security of being stuck in our current situation, rather than going for the exhilaration and rewards of pursuing a path that energizes us. We let our fear of breakdowns keep us from pursuing a breakthrough, because we know that in our current circumstances, a breakdown would be catastrophic.

What is Financial Integrity?

Before we get into the particulars of The Ghannad Group, or even explain why financial integrity is important, I should explain what I mean when I say “financial integrity.” When most people think of integrity, they mistakenly assume it is the same as morality; if we say a someone is a person of integrity, we usually take that to mean that they are a “good” person. But what integrity actually means is wholeness, in the sense of coherence or stability or consistency of function; when something has no integrity, it disintegrates and just doesn’t work. Physically, this is obvious. If you remove one leg from a chair, it no longer has integrity and it will fall over. If you remove a wire from a circuit, it lacks integrity and will not carry electricity. If you have a dam with a huge crack in it, it has no integrity because it lets water through. None of these things are good or bad because they lack integrity; they simply don’t work. Without integrity, things do not perform the function they are designed for, and they cannot be relied upon. This is as true socially and financially, as it is physically.

While finances are just one aspect of personal integrity, financial integrity is especially important, simply because of the fact that money touches every part of our lives. If we think of money like the gas in a car, it isn’t the reason that you drive your car, but it is what makes it possible to do so when you choose to go somewhere. Money, which is really just a symbol of economic value created by conferring the benefit of continued or more enjoyable existence to another party, is needed wherever there is anything significant to be done. You may not intend to confer economic benefit to others in your daily activity, but you can scarcely continue to exist without doing so. Money in this context functions as a token of interdependence that you can trade in to continue or ameliorate your own existence amidst the uncertainty of an entropic universe, ideally in recognition of your having done the same for others. Without financial integrity, money doesn’t insulate you from life the way it should, and you are similarly prevented from helping others do the same because you are too busy worrying about your own situation.

Why Financial Integrity?

When it comes to success in any area of life, including finances, your habits and ability to improve will always be more important than your resources. As I like to put it, “Depend not on what you have, but on your ability to earn. Trust not in what you know, but in your ability to learn.” Financial integrity is about your habits with money, not how much money you have. Unless you cultivate the right habits, you will never have true financial success, no matter how much money you make. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at all the multi-millionaires who have declared bankruptcy and lottery winners with nothing to show for it, or see the documentary The Queen of Versailles. They show us that no amount of income will ever be enough to make up for poor financial habits. Depending on your level of integrity, financial “success” can be either a blessing or a curse. Without good habits, you might become rich, but you will not stay rich for long. With good habits, you might be broke now, but eventually you will become wealthy if you choose to be.

One way to illustrate the importance of financial integrity is by imagining your life as a boat. The higher your income, the bigger the boat, and the more stuff you can carry in it. The hull of the boat, where it touches the water, represents your financial integrity, and holes in that hull represent poor financial habits. Remembering that without integrity, nothing works, we can see that without financial integrity, it is impossible to stay afloat. Is it “bad” to have poor money habits, and does it make you “immoral” or “inferior” to lack financial integrity? No, not anymore than having holes in your boat makes you a bad person. But while holes in a boat may not make you a bad person, they will make you a wet person, and they will make all your “stuff”—your possessions, your relationships, your health, etc.—wet as well. All because your “boat” simply doesn’t do what it is supposed to.

Another instructive aspect of this metaphor is that the size of the boat doesn’t matter, or not in the way most people assume. If you are in a small dinghy, it is relatively easy to bail water out, find where the hole is, and patch it. If you are in a yacht or cruise ship however, having amassed a fortune or a massive income, not only is it harder to find the holes, bail the water out, and patch them, there is also more stuff onboard to lose. Ships like this tend to sink more spectacularly, because it takes more to keep a ship afloat than it does a boat. A sinking ship also may or may not suck down things around it, but we all know that poor financial habits can cause a cascade of negative effects when things finally come crashing down. While a sinking dinghy is a nuisance, a sinking ship can be a catastrophic tragedy, because there is so much more at stake in it staying afloat.

So, we’re suggesting that being rich without financial integrity is like owning a yacht that sits at the bottom of the ocean (and you would be surprised at just how many shipwrecks there are down there, and how many more on their way to meet them), but what exactly is financial integrity? The way I understand it, the purpose of money comes down to insulating yourself from the rough waves of the life, staying afloat, getting to where you want to go, and getting there comfortably. Financial integrity is ensuring that your money is able to perform these functions as it is supposed to.

Practically, financial integrity entails a few principles meant to do just that, such as: Live on less than you earn, have an emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses, eliminate debt, maintain appropriate insurance, invest for retirement, and spend money on that which aligns with your values. There is one final principle, which is really a foundational principle, and that is to cultivate “financial peace.” Doing so means practicing contentment, because lack of it is at the root of poor financial habits to begin with, and practicing generosity, because your success always depends on and has always depended on that of others.

Developing Financial Integrity in our Personal Lives

I have to admit that, for most of my adult life, I lived paycheck to paycheck and carried the burden of various types of debt and had very little to no savings. (This is hardly an admission though, because this is exactly how the vast majority of Americans live, even those making 6 figures and above). I started out flat broke, always had one or two jobs while going to college, and then spent most of what I earned. Even when I got out of college and started making significantly more money than I made at my restaurant jobs, my wife and I adjusted our lifestyle to the money we made, as most people do. We were resigned, as most are, to our financial life being what basically amounted to a treadmill, where the faster we ran, the more we increased the speed of the belt. One day, somehow, we might become rich, but the details were vague and nebulous and probably involved lottery tickets in some way.

Then, about ten years ago, we decided to take a different path. Keep in mind, at this time, our income was not insignificant, but up until then, that had never made a significant difference. We decided that we wanted to get out of debt, start building wealth, and give generously along the way. The method we chose as our guide just happened to be Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU). My wife, Connie, was the one who championed the idea of getting out of debt and getting our finances in order. I have to admit that she dragged me into the process “kicking and screaming,” but eventually we got on the same page and started getting some traction and I became a believer.

One reason I had been reluctant to get on board was that I had been on my own since I was 16 and had no choice but to pinch pennies and stretch every dollar, but since I was now making good money, I had turned into a “free spirit” when it came to finances; I was treating money as if it would never run out because, to my 16 year old self, it didn’t seem that it ever would. Additionally, having to do things on your own for so long also instills in you a sense of pride at being able to handle everything by yourself, and indignation when someone has the audacity to provide advice or guidance; I was a victim of this mentality as well. Connie, on the other hand, who came from a family with meager means, was determined to break the cycle and transform our lives, not only financially, but in terms of our health, our spiritual grounding, the quality of our relationships, etc. All she cared about was what worked, and this seemed to work, so we were going to do it, whether I liked it or not. So, with little to no understanding of how we should go about managing our finances, we took the FPU course and started practicing Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps to getting out of debt and building wealth.

(Now, just a quick side note. If you are not Dave Ramsey fan, please don’t dismiss the main idea of this post, which is about the value of getting your personal finances together. Dave Ramsey didn’t invent the concept of getting out of debt or having an emergency fund, and he doesn’t claim a monopoly on building financial integrity; he just happens to be the person who introduced our family to these ideas. You should follow whichever plan you think will teach you how develop the principles of financial integrity mentioned above, but when you pick a plan, you need to stick to it. Very few people become wealthy by chance, but absolutely no one stays wealthy by chance. Don’t let pride prevent you from accepting guidance that could transform your life for the better. Some resources to check in to might be Two Cents at Lifehacker, TheFinancialDiet, EyesOnTheDollar, GetRichSlowly, or any of the other personal finance websites that abound.)

At the time we took our first course, I was the Plant Manager at a manufacturing plant that was struggling to deliver results. We were working hard on improving the culture and results at the plant, but traditional methods weren’t working. At the same time, I couldn’t help but observe how people’s lives were negatively affected by the poor decisions they had been making relative to their finances, their health, and their relationships, and I figured our results improvement efforts didn’t mean much unless we also made a difference in people’s personal lives. One of the initiatives we brought to the plant was that Connie and I facilitated the 13-week FPU course four times back-to-back, at 7:30 am on Saturdays. (For those counting at home, that’s an entire year of teaching a course on Saturday mornings on a volunteer, pro bono basis, simply because we personally understood the power that financial integrity would have on people’s lives!). As a result of this initiative, we began to see unprecedented improvements in results and morale at work. We routinely had employees at our home with their bills and statements spread out across our dining room table, receiving coaching and advice on budgeting. People were getting out of debt, putting aside emergency funds, and becoming liberated from impulse buying habits that were capsizing their earning power.

In our case, we coordinated the course 9 more times over the next several years, and we have plans to start another one soon. We ended up paying off all of our debt and, with the unprecedented level of success we have experienced this year, we chose to pay off our house as well. (Those who are interested can check out our “Debt Free Scream” on YouTube). The process wasn’t easy but it was definitely worth it. During the process, we also learned and internalized that financial peace is not about collecting and hoarding money. It is about being content and appreciating what you do have, and living within your means so you can afford the things and experiences that matter to you. We got clear that we didn’t care what other people thought of us and that we weren’t trying to keep up with the Joneses because we were ultimately committed to being wealthy, not just looking wealthy.

Financial Integrity in Business and Leadership

So, what does all this mean in the realm of business and leadership? In the former case, I can provide another personal example from our own experience. It’s the fact that without practicing financial integrity, The Ghannad Group might not even exist! One of the great benefits of getting our finances together was that in December 2016, I got the opportunity to leave my 31-year corporate career behind and dedicate my professional pursuits completely to The Ghannad Group. We had a hefty emergency fund that allayed most of my worries about a potentially slow ramp-up and we took the plunge. Without having our finances together, I would have either delayed this decision or abandoned the idea entirely, and we would have never been able to bring value to the organizations we have worked with since then.

We formally established The Ghannad Group over three years ago and this week, we will celebrate two years of being in business full-time. We run the business entirely free of debt, and since we no longer have any personal debt either, we are able to do more for our clients without worrying about breaking the bank, and potential clients do not have to worry about us going under because we are stretched too thin. We have been doing mission-driven work that doesn’t even feel like work and we have been abundantly rewarded, financially, for bringing significant value to the some of the greatest clients anyone could ask for.

When it comes to leadership in general, financial integrity is of the utmost importance, because without it, a leader is neglecting their responsibility to their people. Just as a doctor with poor health habits may become too sick to treat their patients, doing a disservice to them and to their own calling, so too can leaders who maintain poor financial habits do damage to those they are leading and to the credibility of leadership in general. As a leader, you have the responsibility to put yourself in the best position to lead and guide others, and willfully neglecting any area of personal integrity constitutes an abdication of this solemn duty. In this sense, where your lack of integrity leads you to betray the good faith of those who depend on you for leadership, lack of integrity does become a moral issue, although its moral aspect is still dependent on function in some sense.

The fact is, because money touches and supports every area of life, personal financial habits are functionally a moral issue for those with responsibility for others, insofar that the former affects the latter in any way. This is why we have requirements that politicians, and other leaders of people, divest themselves of businesses or disclose conflicts of interest, and why bribery is illegal. All of these involve the temptation to divorce money of its true meaning, and to elevate the value of money over the value of the people that leaders are sworn to serve and “take care” of. If your finances are not in order, these temptations to betray public trust for money have a much greater appeal. If you are in debt, you are in some sense beholden to the will of another party, and the existence of organized crime proves that this can be a powerful incentive to act I ways that are harmful to oneself and others.

Beyond that, if your calling is to help others, and all leadership is in some sense, then you have an almost sacred obligation to build financial integrity. If you are running a charity, there are people whose lives and well-being depend on your ability to remain financially solvent; operating at a loss because you “just want to help” or think “money is evil” means that you will not be operating for very long, defeating the very goal of your existence. This is like trying to save people on the sinking ship by ushering them into lifeboats that have holes in them too. And if you are a business leader, entire families depend on your ability to weather the storms and not abandon ship when things start getting choppy. We have all heard stories of companies that lacked financial integrity bringing down employees, families, and entire communities in the wake of their own capsizing.

If you are reflecting on 2018 and resolving to have more career satisfaction in 2019, start with getting your personal finances together. You will have more cushion between you and life and will be able to endure a bit more turbulence between where you are and where you want to be. If you change nothing else in your life, I promise that cultivating financial stability will feel like you just got a raise, even if you don’t make a single penny more next year.

And if you have employees that are frustrated with and distracted by their finances, make some education available to them. You will see that it goes a long way to help them manage their money better, and the habits they develop will permeate other aspects of their lives, including their work. In no time, you will have a more resilient, productive, satisfied and committed workforce, and you will be on your way to sailing the seas of personal and professional success and fulfillment.

If you made it all the way through this post, give yourself a hand! You deserve some kind of gift for that level of dedication, and I hope that what you learned in this post is a gift that continues to benefit you and yours for years to come. Until the next post, I would like to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday season!

Resources related to this post:

·         Bridging the Gap Between Passion and Career | TTLP 006 (LI)

·         10 Steps to Career Fulfillment and World Peace (LI)

·         Are You Fit to Lead? (LI)

·         Great Power Is Great Responsibility (LI)

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About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.

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As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!

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