Integrity is often identified as one of the core values of many businesses and organizations. The challenge for those in the organization is "what do we mean by integrity?" It is often easily identified and glibly said, but do people in the organization understand what it means.
Integrity has a multi-dimensional aspect to it. We often attach the word integrity to many functions within the workplace and life: moral integrity, data integrity, personal integrity, market integrity, corporate integrity, philosophical integrity, mathematical integrity, medical integrity and so on.
When we use integrity as a corporate value, we usually mean that the word applies to everyone and all functions within the organization. Hence, the organization deems it appropriate that people deal with each other and customers with integrity, that the data is collected and screened with integrity, and that it markets itself to its various stakeholders with integrity.
Values however, are acted out through behaviors. We know that people have integrity if they exhibit the qualities of integrity. When we think of behavior and use the word integrity we expect the person to : act consistently, exhibit moral character, adhere to ethical principles, and project the qualities of honesty, truthfulness, accuracy and authenticity.
Let's lift two key phrases from this list of behaviors.
Consistency of Action: Consistency is about sameness. That one acts the same regardless of the situation. We often hear the phrase: "He says what he means and means what he says." This person consistently shows that his behavior reflects what he means, and people recognize it to be so. Think about John, however, who shifts and changes to accommodate his different mood swings. How do we relate to John because he "runs hot and cold" and we don't know from one situation to another how he will react? John becomes a relational stumbling block and his colleagues are constantly on guard. John is acting consistently but in a way that weakens his relationships with others. John tarnishes his integrity by the way he acts with others.
Consistency of action is a choice we make. We can choose to be obstructionist or not. We can choose to leave one situation where we may be frustrated or angry and enter another where we put our frustration and angst aside and deal with the new situation without negativism or rancour. We can choose to act positively or negatively.
Soundness of moral character and ethical principles. Moral character relates to a sense of doing things right for self and others. It is based on the natural principles of "treating others as one would want to be treated," and as such relate to the positive virtues by which we live such as: honesty, empathy, patience, kindness, gratitude, justice and courage.
Ethical principles are based on moral behavior or principles of morality and usually pertain to right and wrong behavior. Professions often have ethical principles by which those in the profession must abide. A workplace may have a Code of Conduct which outlines employee and employer expectations and responsibilities. Many of the expectations within a workplace code of conduct are based on moral and ethical considerations. Both professional code of ethics and a workplace code of conduct identify the consequences of a breach of the code.
We begin to press the edges of integrity when we start to stretch and test the lines of a professional or workplace code. Certainly, one acts without integrity when the lines are clearly crossed such as committing acts of fraud, stealing large amounts of money or lying about a grossly negligent act. But what about the little things that gradually erode integrity in the workplace such as:
Once again, our integrity is determined by the choices we make. This time it is about how we want to live our life within the bounds of moral character and ethical principles.
Integrity comes from the Latin word 'integer' which means whole and complete. To act with integrity then reflects a sense of 'wholeness' and consistency of character. Therefore, to be a person of integrity our behaviors, words, actions and outcomes should positively reflect who we are.
Others will know if we are acting with integrity because they will see the connection between what we say, do and act as one with us in all situations. There is only one 'me' and that 'me' if I am to act with integrity must be the same 'me' whether at work, home or at play. We become authentic when we consistently reflect our wholeness to others through what we call integrity.
Does this mean we must act with integrity ALL the time? The short answer is 'yes but not necessarily' because we do mess up from time to time. The key here lies in our intention. When we mess up the integral thing to do is recognize and correct the mess-up as quickly as possible. We take responsibility and become accountable for what we say and do and how we act. Clearly it is not our intention to act without integrity; our intention is to act with integrity but sometimes because of emotion, lack of sleep, or caught in a 'frazzled state' we let our guard down and may say, do or act inappropriately. When this happens, we should immediately take corrective action. We may eat a little ‘humble pie’ in the process, but it is the 'right' thing to do if we want to keep our integrity intact.
Here are seven considerations for you.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie. MSW, FCMC
For a five-minute take on integrity, listen to So-Young Kang here.