“Integrity – the courage to meet the demands of reality” – Dr. Henry Cloud.
It was that stick that always threw me. It was straight when I held it in the air and looked at it, but it always bent when I put it into the water. Even when I understood the explanation, it was unsettling. I had to work really hard to get my stick to poke the bottom of the lake, not where I thought it ought to go from up here where I was looking from (the air), but where it had to go through there (the water).
There are some similarities when dealing with people whose observed (practiced) behaviors don’t line up with what we thought they would do, nor line up with what they said (professed) they would do. It takes extra work. It is like looking sideways at the fish through the thick glass at an aquarium, unsettling and disorienting. Gives one a headache. At least one can look or walk away from the tank at the aquarium; you can’t necessarily do this with the people you are counting on at work, at home, in life. Nor they with us.
In situations with people such as these we are confronted with a troubling but mostly ignored reality: while we say we highly value integrity as a character trait and give the benefit of the doubt that we can place trust in it being practiced, in fact we often don’t see it wholly demonstrated or delivered, and frequently we ourselves fail to deliver it or deliver only a watered down version of it.
The easy way out is simply to move forward by concluding that we aren’t going to witness much integrity in action, but that just lowers any expectation that we should act in accord with it ourselves. Bad, simplistic choice. The better way would be to seek to understand integrity and why it is often such a fragile commodity. To do that, we first need a workable definition, a bit more focused and actionable than Dr. Henry Cloud’s general one, (Integrity is character, ethics, and morals. But also more …). I offer the following as Fundamental Principle 10:
Integrity: The conscious decision and discipline to own your values and principles and hold yourself accountable to them.
That is simple enough, yet it is consistent with the previous “Say = Do = Are” model, and it helps make integrity a much more personal concept and trait. It creates a picture:
Integrity is the conduit through which our character, ethics, and morals are expressed to the outside world.
As this separates the action from the content (character, ethics, and morals) it also has some interesting consequences. For instance, a Three-Card Monte player on a New York street corner indeed has integrity by this definition – you know and he knows that he is going to cheat you (play by different rules, his “Say ≠ Do = Are”) but he does have integrity because he is going to behave according to his values. His values and ethics are just different than yours (that is, money is better served in his pocket than yours), and that leads to a simple negative sum (–∑) game transferring money from you to him. Unless you are out solely to be entertained by a professional exercising his honed talents, you will surely be disappointed, based upon your likely assumptions about “shared values.”
A similar argument could be made for a freedom fighter or revolutionary, for instance. In both cases the assumed superficial values and real values are not necessarily identical, but people can be behaving with integrity.
In fact, for all of us there may even be “sleeper” values, like a “sleeper” spy or terrorist cell, intentionally kept from view until an appropriate moment, or unknown until an inappropriate one.
Our careers are based on making decisions that affect other people’s lives.
Our success in our careers is based upon our character, skills and talents being expressed ethically through this integrity conduit by decisions that add value to the outside world.
We make assumptions about “shared values” with others in career and life, mostly to good success but sometimes with unsettling results. If integrity, ours or anyone’s, becomes bent or distorted, its effect runs two ways:
- Distorted integrity blocks the expression of assumed character, ethics, morals and potential added value to the outside world, and
- Distorted integrity blocks the flow of trust back to the person.
How are you doing in holding yourself accountable, with a straight stick, to your own values and principles, and keeping your Integrity conduit open?