"The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour." -- Japanese Proverb

Pretty hard-hitting, isn't it? Your integrity is foundational to your success, and, just as this proverb states, it takes one single bad choice to destroy a lifetime's worth of integrity. Ask Lance Armstrong.

If integrity is missing from your life, this is a non-negotiable business practice that is the key to your success.

The signs for a successful future are laid out ahead. Use this a six-step strategy for developing and preserving your own integrity for the rest of your life.

Step 1: Define Your Values

You can't live by values if you don't know what you truly believe in. So, start by defining your core values as a template to guide you for life. And no matter what the consequence, you're not going to compromise on those values. They will help you make difficult decisions when you're at the crossroads.

Speaking of crossroads, quick story: I was once placed in a position where I was told to lie to a client on behalf of a previous company. My integrity stepped in, and I chose the higher route. While I lost my job, it helped me to find another company later on that shared my core values of honesty and integrity in all my business dealings.

Step 2: Analyze Every Choice You Make

Having integrity means that, no matter what, you make the right choice -- especially when no one is watching.

Most of us have an internal barometer for knowing what's right and wrong. If you're not sure what the right choice is, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. If my choice was published on the front page of Time magazine, would I feel okay about it?
  2. If I make this choice, will I feel okay with myself afterwards?

Remember, honesty and integrity don't come out of a box only when it's convenient for you; they're values that you should live by all the time. This includes the choices everyone sees, and the choices that no one sees.

Step 3: Build Up Your Self-Confidence

People with integrity often have a strong sense of self, high self-esteem, and self-confidence. These are important characteristics to have especially when under pressure from others to make the wrong choice.

Tip: Work on building these traits so that you have the strength and courage to do the right thing when the time comes. Go back to Step No.1 and spend time getting to know yourself, and what you believe in. Finally, surround yourself with others who demonstrate integrity, and who will support your decisions.

Step 4: Avoid White Lies

They may seem harmless, but tiny lies are still lies. And over time, one white lie after another will simply make you a big, fat, liar. Check yourself, and always tell the truth.

Step 5: Learn to Take Responsibility for Your Actions

If you make a mistake, own up to it immediately and do whatever it takes to right the situation. Keep your word, and don't make promises that you know you can't keep.

Step 6: Stay Humble

The word 'humility' first struck me in the context of leadership when Jim Collins mentioned it in his seminal book Good to Great.

Collins basically said that the best leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness. These leaders, as Collins determined in his study, gain an edge through displaying both fierce professional will and extreme personal humility. This paradoxical mix creates superb financial results.

Tip: Stay humble and down-to-earth, not looking for approval, and, when appropriate, give others the spotlight.

Next step: Which of these steps could you start applying in your daily work today?