Ever wondered what sets the most successful professionals apart? It’s about working – and living – by a strong set of ethical principles
In simple terms, integrity is about doing the right thing – even when no one’s watching. Acting with integrity means having a core set of values or moral principles that you stick to at all times – not just knowing the difference between right and wrong, but acting on those convictions. While it’s a trait that all employers look for, in accountancy it’s absolutely crucial, ensuring colleagues and clients can trust you, and promoting public confidence in the profession. So always strive to be transparent and straightforward, use sound judgement and never be associated with misleading information.
Integrity and honesty go hand in hand. Trustworthiness is one of the most fundamental principles for success, not only in the workplace, but in all aspects of life. Be truthful: communicate honestly and openly, while showing respect and sensitivity for others’ opinions and feelings. Always respect confidentiality, and never share privileged information unless it’s appropriate to do so.
Trustworthiness is also about being reliable, consistent and following through on your commitments. It’s about being honest with yourself, too – if you make mistakes, own up to them. And don’t tolerate dishonesty in others: if you see something you know is not right, speak up – it’s not good enough to look the other way.
Being objective means remaining fair and impartial in all your professional dealings. Your judgements should be your own: not unduly influenced by, or biased towards, anybody else. It’s important to remain objective even when under pressure, whether that be cost, time or pressure from others. Conflict of interest is a big area here too: if you have any sort of private or personal interest in a particular client or project that could impact your ability to remain impartial, then you must declare it. If in doubt, ask yourself: what would an independent observer think of my actions?
Fairness is important when it comes to dealing with other people, too. Treat others as you would like to be treated – it’s called the golden rule for a reason. You should always be polite, courteous and considerate to colleagues and clients, even when times are trying. Respect other people’s differences, treat everyone equally – and keep personal opinions to yourself. Try to be a champion for equal opportunities too: lead by example and encourage the people around you or the organisation you’re part of to practise fair treatment. While as ICAEW students and members we all have a Code of Ethics to adhere to, as individuals we each have our own moral compass, so bear in mind that others may have different values or standards to you, and don’t judge them for it.
Part of respecting others is being able to put yourself in their shoes: how would you feel if you were in that particular situation? Ethical people have a high degree of emotional intelligence: they listen well, are sensitive to others’ feelings and are able to see situations from multiple perspectives. Taking an interest in and appreciating others leads to better working relationships – even small acts of kindness can be surprisingly powerful. This humanity extends further than the people we come directly into contact with, too: as a profession we act in the public interest and strive for the greater good.
Do what’s asked of you to the best of your abilities, and be accountable for your actions – don’t pass the buck. We all make mistakes, but the key is to learn from them, so be honest if things go wrong, and ask for help if you need it. As well as taking responsibility for your own work and actions, think about the bigger picture – not only in terms of your own team, clients and stakeholders, but also your impact on society and the planet. Offer support to others where you can, but don’t be afraid to question something you think is not right – just make sure you go about it in the right way, whether that’s speaking directly to an individual, or raising a more serious matter through the proper channels.
Over the course of your career you will be expected to attain and maintain certain levels of knowledge and skill, but commitment is about more than competence: it’s about setting the highest standards for yourself and always striving to meet them. Diligent, dedicated, dependable… those who habitually go above and beyond will always do well. And these are qualities that will not only serve you well in the workplace, but will translate to success in all areas of life.
Professional development and ethics are two of four parts of the ACA. Our professional development ladders prepare you to successfully handle different situations that you’ll encounter throughout your career. Ethics is integrated throughout the ACA, so you’ll start to develop your ethical capabilities from the beginning of your training through to the end of your career.
Find out more about our professional development ladders and ethics within the ACA.
For more support to develop your skills and access career advice visit Careers+