Leading with Integrity in Sri Lanka

Amila Dilshan, consultant and lecturer at the School of Business of the National Institute of Business Management (NIBM) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, invited business author Mike Smith to give an online lecture to 100 students and faculty members on 29 March. His theme was Leading with Integrity, taken from the title of his book which was published in Sri Lanka by Vijitha Yapa Publications in 2019. The subtitle of his talk was on the ‘Importance of integrity as a value to business management students’.

Opening his talk, Smith told the students that, as they graduate and go out into the world of work, they have the potential to change the world for the better in their lifetimes. But this depended on their motivation and the values they take with them.

Smith asked the students what they understood by the word integrity and who all the stakeholders are in an enterprise. He spelt these out as customers and employees, owners, suppliers and the supply chain, the wider community, and future generations, bearing in mind the environmental impact of business activity.

Smith emphasized that integrity includes honesty and the avoidance of corruption, conscience-based decision making, being trustworthy and ‘doing the right thing when no one else is looking’. He also spelt out eight Cs of trust: Contracts, Competence, Covenant, Character, Conscience, Calling or Contribution, Courage, and Change.

During his hour-long talk, including Q&A, Smith highlighted five pillars of trust in the economy: Sustainability, Integrity, Cooperation, Purpose, and Stewardship. He gave case stories of best practice in entrepreneurship for each of these five pillars.

The students asked how integrity applied to marketing and to a company’s image and public relations. They also asked about the importance of profit to an organization. Smith quoted from Mumbai businessman Vivek Asrani who had said that profit is like the fuel in a vehicle: it is needed for the journey but is not the purpose of the journey. Smith said that businesses needed a defining purpose beyond shareholder value and the bottom line. He also said that there was a stewardship role for employers and shareholders—an issue which had gone badly wrong in the banking sector which led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the financial crash of 2008-2009.

He concluded by quoting from Adam Smith, the father of modern economic thought, who had spoken about ‘the invisible hand of the market’ in his book on The Wealth of Nations. But in his earlier book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he had referred to the ‘Impartial Spectator’, which acts like a ‘demigod within the breast’ and the ‘man within’ which is ‘the vice-regent of the deity’—in other words, one’s conscience.

Subsequent generations had overlooked Adam Smith’ moral philosophy. The need now was to rediscover his moral philosophy; to be true to our sense of consciousness about what needs to happen in the world; and to follow our dreams for what we want to achieve in the world.

Mike Smith had first met Amila Dilshan during an Utsav (festival) gathering at Asia Plateau, the IofC centre in Panchgani, India, in January 2023. Mr Kolitha Ranakawa, Director of the School of Business, gave a welcoming introduction to Mike. At the end of his talk, Dr D M A Kulasooriya, the Director General of NIBM, thanked Smith for his talk.