I suspect that we all like to think we have integrity, but what exactly does this mean?
Integrity usually means that a person is trustworthy, reliable and has a set of values that make them respected by their friends and colleagues. More literally, integrity means a consistent combination of attributes that work together.
These are related by what we call values. First, our values should result in actions that result in “good” things; second, people like to have a consistent response. Both of these make up integrity.
Fortunately, if we can understand our own basis of values, then we are more likely to be consistent when dealing with other people. Where do your values come from? You might have religious convictions that give you guidance in what is right and wrong. Often these are felt to be a duty to act well. Alternatively you might have a more general feeling that people should just act in a way that produces good outcomes.
If you believe that lying is wrong – period – then you are following a duty based train of thought. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances; lying is just plain wrong. On the other hand if you think that lying is wrong because people won’t trust you, or it might be hurtful, then you are concerned with the outcome.
Notice that we can come to the same conclusion (lying is wrong) by following either way of reasoning. However, if we said, “You look great” when we don’t mean it, we might justify the lie by saying it does no harm, and to tell the truth would be hurtful. You couldn’t justify it, though, if you felt that lying was always wrong based on a duty to tell the truth. Do you see the difference between duty and outcome based reasons?
So, how does this help day-to-day?
Making decisions involving ethics (and a surprising number of everyday decisions do) often means trading off one good against another, or choosing the least-worst action. If you can examine your basis of values, and decide whether you are concerned with applying a sense of duty, or you need to consider the outcome of that specific action, then you have a clearer way of making the right choice.
Coming back to integrity, you are more likely to make a similar decision in similar circumstances, which is what we call integrity. Imagine laughing at a child’s use of a particular word one day, then scolding her the next for the same thing – that’s unfair, and you would truly lack integrity.
What is your values base? If you have strong religious convictions it’s likely that you will have a number of duty based values. But you will also need to use an outcome based approach from time to time. If you are not religious you probably work on an outcome based ethic most of the time, although all of us have some deep-down convictions that some things just are right or wrong whether we’re religious or not.
Have a think! Just a bit more clarity on why you make certain decisions will help you be more consistent – and gain integrity!
Thank you for reading this article. Visit http://www.uberskills.com to see how integrity links with focus and simplicity, the other uberskills. A much more detailed treatment of integrity, including examples and exercises, is included in the Integrity eNote.
Stephen Timperley has a masters degree in philosophy and is a principal of Uberskills (www.uberskills.com). He is a practising management consultant and has recently published a book on corporate social responsibility. Stephen is co-author of the Uberskills program.