How important is integrity? Follow me on this. According to John C. Maxwell, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.” Working backward, we can also say that leadership rises and falls with trust and trust rises and falls with integrity. Together, these three statements make it clear that integrity always matters.
Let’s identify a definition before exploring the meaning and importance of integrity.
“Integrity is the integration of outward actions and inner values.
A person of integrity is the same on the outside and on the inside.”
— “The Top 10 Leadership Qualities”, Article by David Hakala, March 19, 2008
Defining integrity in terms of consistency and alignment (i.e. integration) is a good start. But, since integrity is generally considered to be a virtue (e.g. www.virtuesproject.com/virtues.html) it would seem that integrity also has a moral dimension. So, let’s use the following working definitions:
“Integrity is the integration of outward virtuous actions with inner virtuous values.”
“Integrity is what you do when no one is looking.”
How significant is integrity? Pick up any study or survey about the most important qualities of a leader and you’re sure to find integrity at or near the top. Ask any person what qualities they value most in others and integrity is likely to be high on that list, too. People value integrity in others even when they don’t live up to it themselves.
Human frailty makes it challenging to act in accordance with our complex set of beliefs. The tendency is to look for an escape with phrases like, “just this once” or “it’s such a small thing” or “I’ll just apologize when it’s over.” But, a strong personal commitment to one’s conscience (internal) and a supporting accountability partner (external) will generally favor an outcome that reflects integrity.
People sometimes measure a leader by the number of his followers. Aren’t people of great wealth and power able to attract a large following of those who hope to gain a small piece of that wealth and power? If so, what do these followers willingly sacrificing to get it? It’s likely they are compromising other values in favor of money and power. True integrity is measured by consistently aligning one’s behaviors with one’s values AND by the moral quality of the values that win when competing values collide.
The case for integrity in leadership is strong. But, not all people see themselves as leaders. Maybe the reason is that some aren’t willing to pay the price of leadership. That’s the subject of the next issue of “How Am I Sabotaging My Future?” For now, start by accepting that integrity is a career-advancing belief and doing what is necessary to boost your integrity quotient will benefit your life and career.