Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who Has Integrity?

Recently, I was in a discussion with a group of people about integrity. One person quoted Dr. Henry Cloud's book on the subject that integrity is "the courage to meet the demands of reality." There are six indicators according to Dr. Cloud:

  • Connecting authentically with others
  • Embracing truth in all circumstances
  • Working hard to get positive results and finish well
  • Seeing the problem and taking responsibility for it (one definition of accountability)
  • Pursuing personal growth
  • Being humble
This didn't sit right. I argued that integrity is simply living out your values i.e. "walking the talk" colloquially. I thought that Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler and every other dictator had shades of integrity in the sense that they acted on their values. One person argued that integrity depends on having the right kind of values.

It turns out that Dr. Cloud treats integrity the same as character. The book was initiated by a discussion with two young men about success. He argues that true success depends on the right character (what he calls integrity). Okay, I buy that. But character is not the same as integrity. Character is the ethics you live by and integrity is how well you live according to that set of values and moral codes.

Integrity is like quality in that there are different shades of meaning. Quality can be conformance to specifications. A Chevy is a high quality Chevy if it meets the standards of Chevy. It is not a higher grade quality such that a Chevy is not a Cadillac. A 24 kt gold necklace is a higher grade quality than an 18 kt gold necklace. However, jewelry of both grades could be of high quality if they meet the specs of 24 kt and 18 kt respectively. An 18 kt necklace that fails to meet the specs has neither conformance quality nor grade quality.

Similarly, a person of integrity who lives according to poor communal, self-centered values has high conformance integrity. A person who truly practices servant leadership and is altruistic would be deemed to have high character and integrity of a high grade, beneficial to the society. A person who says one thing but acts in another manner lacks integrity, whether he or she is self-centered or other-centered. A boss who asks for input on a decision without revealing that the decision has been made already has low integrity. An employee who commits to working 40 hours but finds ways to take longer or more frequent breaks from the action has low integrity.

Now we all blow it occasionally. None of us are perfect. If we exhibit chronic disregard for our avowed values then we'd quickly lose a following, friends and family. We'd probably jeopardize the company with poor decisions and those decisions would appear arbitrary to the rest of the organization.

I do agree with Dr. Cloud in the respect that we should all evaluate our integrity and try as hard as we can to have a high level--both in conformance and in the ethical character of it.

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