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In life, let integrity be your guide

Are you as successful as you would like to be? If not, the integrity concept could be useful to you, particularly in your leading.

What is integrity?

Doing the right thing

The popular interpretation is ‘doing the right thing’ which is certainly one aspect of it but if you drill down to its more precise definition, integrity can be an invaluable guide in your life.

Most dictionaries give two main definitions both of which are important:

  1. Adherence to moral principles; honesty.

  2. The state of being whole and complete.

1. Adherence to moral principles

Our belief that integrity is about ‘Doing the right thing' arises from the first definition, ‘moral principles’ except that the dictionary definition of moral principles is ‘doing the right thing’! We have a circularity.

And right and wrong don’t actually exist; they are contextual.

For example, if you were in London, would it be ‘right’ to go to Cornwall? Perhaps? Perhaps not? But if you were to create a context such as: “Your aim is to get from London to Edinburgh as quickly as possible, should you go to Cornwall?” the ‘right’ answer becomes a clear ‘No’.

Principle: a personal rule of conduct

But ‘Principle’ of ‘moral principles’ is clearer and according to authors Dr Ben Hardy and Dan Sullivan in their book ‘10x is easier than 2x’ a principle is:

  • ‘A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system or belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.’

How to use the moral principles definition as a guide

To utilise this first definition of integrity as a moral compass or guide in daily life, I interpret ‘moral’ as

  • that which serves the greater good

and a principle as:

  • ‘A fundamental truth (ie an aspect of love) that I adopt as a personal rule of conduct.’

Eg. being kind; compassionate; true; being of service, etc.

When a way forward is unclear or when I’m having to take the least worst option, I find that more and more I look to my principles. Am I being kind in this situation? Compassionate? True? Am I serving?

Often, adherence to moral principles can have adverse shorter-term consequences but, ultimately, it serves the longer term greater good. For example, releasing a poorly performing team member who is not suited to his or her role and so hindering progress - their own and the team’s.

When the way forward is unclear

It is when you, your team and/or organisation are being stressed; the rules have run out, and your purpose, vision, and mission have become opaque to you that your principles will guide you. Even in the thick of it, with shorter term expediency (or stakeholders) beckoning, you will be guided to serve the greater good, for the longer-term benefit of your team and/or organisation, ultimately.

Your doing so consistently will also increase your team’s/organisation’s passion and fervour for their purpose and the project in hand because you are building an expectation that, despite circumstances, it’s going to happen. We experience fulfilment when doing what we came here to do, and serving the greater good. This culture will give meaning to the lives of all involved and boost morale.

2. The state of being whole and complete

The second definition of integrity, the state of being whole and complete, can, when your results are not as you expect them, point-up deficiencies in structure and process. How?


Imagine a brand new mountain bike wheel with 32 spokes, all torqued (tightened) as they should be. The wheel is whole and complete so you can expect that it will perform as designed in all conditions for which it is designed.

But with the passage of time and less maintenance than ideal, one or two spokes become loose so that there are certain conditions, perhaps not many, when the wheel could fail.

More time passes and more spokes loosen and one or two are also broken, so now, it’s not that in some conditions the wheel might fail but that there is a 30% probability, say, that the wheel will fail in the conditions for which it was designed.

Buildings, bridges, cars, and organisations rely on this principle: structures must be whole and complete. Many of the Turkish earthquake disaster buildings were built with a sign-off but no integrity.

Process: a piece of cake

The principle also works for processes. Another example:

My wife asks her friends for afternoon tea and, either being a masochist or not wanting them to call again, asks me to bake a cake.

Aware that cooking is not my unique ability, I reach for Delia Smith and purchase every ingredient that she stipulates. I follow her recipe precisely, baking for the times and temperatures she recommends.

What do I get after a couple of hours’ baking? The cake, and my wife’s afternoon is sufficiently successful for her to want to invite her friends again.

I have all the ingredients, so I follow the recipe precisely once more and what results? The perfect cake and social success so they are invited yet again!

However, I am now running out of the correct ingredients and am becoming resentful. Where ingredients are missing, substitutions are made. The cook, now wanting to spend as little time as possible on this task, turns up the oven and cuts the baking times.

The result? The not-cake. Delia’s process was not followed with integrity. (Editor’s afternote: the writer got into trouble with his wife)

Manufacturing processes rely on this principle: if they do this, this, this, and this for that length of time, they will get the result they require.

And the principle also works in the service sector. A sales team might expect an average 30% closure rate but if they were getting only 18% would look to each stage of their sales process to see where their integrity was out.

So when something is not working in a structure, process, or in life, the first question to ask is where is the integrity out, and fix it.

And, perhaps, a deeper lesson

A repeated or persistent out-of-integrity may also flag-up the existence of something else: its cause.

Persistent out-of-integrities can indicate that your mind/team/organisation has a subconscious story about itself. This story will silently set beliefs and standards in this area affecting the process - and all processes and projects. This is information obviously worth having as no amount of fixing is going to counteract, ultimately, an unseen, subconscious limiting belief.

So ‘moral integrity’ will guide you through tough situations, and ‘whole-and-complete’ integrity will identify gaps in process and structure and the possible presence of hidden limiting beliefs.

And as a leader?

And as a leader, there are two more powerful reasons to be guided by integrity:

When people and stakeholders know from experience that you choose consistently to be guided by integrity rather than your ego or what’s in it for you, they grow to trust you and want to follow you - to get things done.

And because the culture of trust you create won’t have the compliance, procedures and checks that a culture of no trust requires, your team’s and organisation’s projects and processes will be delivered quicker, cheaper, and more happily for all involved.

Christopher Jones-Warner

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