Most everyone agrees that integrity matters. It appears in countless personal and corporate mission statements, is touted by political candidates and CEOs, proclaimed as a virtue by ministers, encouraged by parents, demanded of partners, and aspired to by individuals.
Many have spoken on the subject of integrity. Here are some of the many quotes:
-Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching
- C.S. Lewis
-The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
-Subtlety may deceive you; integrity never will
- Oliver Cromwell
-Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with our all to keep it
I think a simple yet profound synonym for integrity is “authenticity.” Authenticity implies that the image, words, deeds, behaviors we present to the world are consistent with our values, character, and beliefs. It implies we are truthful, genuine, and not a hypocrite. The best leaders have learned to be authentic.
Yet we see lapses in integrity all around us. We may even see lack of integrity from the person in the mirror. The impact of lapses in integrity are very visible in failed relationships, failed trust, and in failed businesses. When you fail to act with integrity you trade a potential short-term gain for long-term success. Everything becomes more complicated when trust is betrayed.
Most people do not wake up one day determined to be disingenuous, to lie or deceive, to be hypocritical, or to do the wrong thing. So what happens? Why do so many who intend to do the right thing ultimately fail? Why do we struggle with integrity?
It’s in our nature to be deceitful. It’s been said that you don’t have to teach a child how to lie; it comes naturally. From the very beginning we have to learn the value of being authentic. Indeed, some people take a lifetime to learn this as evidenced by some of the spectacular and very public failures we have seen in every area of life and in every type of organization.
Why are some people disingenuous? Here are a number of reasons:
-They value their goals more than people.
-They value their goals more than honesty.
-They are trying to be someone or something they are not.
-They succumbed to the small lie which led to larger ones.
-They developed habits of dishonesty.
-They succumbed to fear.
Character and values are great determinants of integrity. Beyond these, I believe fear is a significant reason that basically honest people will sometimes act without integrity. I talk about “fearless integrity” for this reason. If you can address fear many of the reasons to be inauthentic go away. Some of the reasons for fear include fear of perception, fear of relationships, fear of outcomes, and fear of anger. I will address these in more detail in a future post.
So what are some of the ways to “protect” your integrity?
-Avoid situations which may lead you to compromise your values.
-Incorporate accountability in your life.
-Be faithful in small things.
-Do the right thing in spite of your fears.
-Set right priorities.
-Never do anything that goes against your values.
-Avoid the slippery slope.
-Reinforce habits of integrity.
-Know and be yourself, not a copy of someone else.
-Surround yourself with people of integrity.
If you practice the above ways to “protect” your integrity you will be much further along your way to being a character-driven leader. Being a character-driven leader requires authenticity. Authenticity paired with a strong value system will lead to greater opportunities and influence, employee and customer loyalty, effectiveness in dealing with difficult problems, better negotiations, and greater impact. Businesses and reputations only last when founded upon integrity.
The rules do not change when the pressure mounts. Do the right thing!