The nitty gritty of Integrity

Here’s a curly question for you:  If you’re really honest with yourself – how much integrity do you really have?

Every moment I am challenged by how much integrity we do or don’t have.  And – no offence – I consider we don’t have any.

So, in this article, I’m going to shine a strong light on integrity and see how it impacts power. I’m going to challenge you and heighten your experience and understanding of integrity and its relationship with values.  Because, as leaders, your people are watching you with eagle eyes. When you get it wrong in their eyes, they don’t forgive you easily – and they don’t let you forget it.

What is Integrity?

Integrity’s a big word. And there are lots of conflicting beliefs on what it does and does not mean. By definition, it’s the capacity to be your word.  It’s fulfilling your spoken promises. It’s a now-occuring phenomenon: You said it, now it’s a matter of integrity.   And as a leader, it’s the essence of everything.  Once you’ve said it  – you show up. It’s that simple. Or not.

If you’re familiar with our Integrity and Values leadership profiling process, you’ll know that the five values most commonly held by leaders are truthfulness, responsibility, accountability, loyalty and self-awareness. All of them are a manifestation of integrity – but integrity itself, isn’t about truth or morality – it’s about showing up when you said you would and keeping to your word.

Looking back, we know that some of the most heinous crimes in history have been perpetrated by people who thought they had Integrity.  It’s a powerful force and if, as leaders, we got a handle on integrity, the results would be astronomical – beyond anything you’d imagine.

So, what’s the impact of not having integrity? Think about the little things we do that let ourselves and others down…

  •  “I’ll be there in 5 minutes…”
    (while knowing you’ll be longer)
  •  “I’ll be home by 6pm…”
    (knowing full well it will be closer to 7)
  • “I’ll get an early night, be in bed by 10”
    (finding every reason you can to delay).

Anyone else guilty of over promising and under-delivering? Lying by omission?  Procrastinating?  Have you paid the price for going back on promises you made yourself or others? Said yes when you ought to have said no, and spent months – even years – regretting it.

This is about integrity, not honesty.  The real question is:  if you said it, can you do it? And if the answer is no, then don’t say it in the first place.We need to learn to censor our language to reflect our capacity to live up to the promises and declarations we make.

So, if we act with integrity and deliver on our spoken promises, what’s the outcome?

It’s trust.  Integrity builds trust, that quintessential quality that inspires loyalty and respect that builds a healthy culture and elicits extra effort and support from your people. They’ll do extra thinking on your behalf, and you’ll get back time.

(Just a note of caution: In the service industry, where people are working extra long hours – it’s been proven that working for more than 9.5 hours at a stretch is actually having a negative effect on the business, due to avoidable mistakes being made.  There’s no integrity in that!)

Imagine what would happen if there was absolute trust and integrity was alive across your organisation? If you were leading and others were responding with 100% integrity – fulfilling your declared promises; your implied promises, your unspoken promises?  Just imagine the possibilities…

So, if integrity is a manifestation of values, how does it link it to those values and other leadership traits and drivers?

The Integrity Model

Here’s a simple model to make it easy to talk about a tough topic.  Those of you who are into sailing will relate…

Think about a simple sailing boat…

Values are the keel. Below the water line, unseen, but keeping the boat upright.  I’ve mentioned before the 5 values most commonly held by leaders – truthfulness, responsibility, accountability, loyalty and self-awareness. They guide leadership and shape an organisation’s culture.

Integrity is the main mast – highly visible, it holds up the sails.  It’s the outward manifestation of those values.

The sails adjust to catch the prevailing wind, to propel the boat forward. In the same way, a leader’s task focus, self-management and relationship management (getting others to do what we need them to) combine to drive momentum towards the organisational vision and goals.



If the goal is ahead of you, you can only travel there if wind is behind you. So your job as a leader is to hold tightly to the rudder. Your job is to keep the boat heading in the right direction, even if that means some zig-zagging towards the goal, when winds keep changing direction, or the waters become unpredictable.

(As an aside, for those of you who are familiar with our leadership profiling process – you’re aiming for an impression management score of 3, 4 or 5. Anything lower than that suggests you’re  hypocritical, and a higher score would have you walking on water!)

And still on the topic of our leadership profiling process:  As a leader, wouldn’t you like to know your correction point? And understand what are the things that are getting in the way of your success? Getting a clear map of your strengths, your blind spots, your biases across all 20 leadership traits, empowers you to lead with clarity so that your people will fly the flag of your vision.  They will trust that you’ll do what you say you’ll do. Because there will be no gap between who you say you are, and what they actually see is happening. That’s integrity.

And just to be clear: having integrity is not about never making mistakes or being perfect. It’s about the velocity with which you correct those mistakes.  It’s about early detection and correcting quickly.  Velocity made good.

Next, let’s talk about some “Integrity stoppers”, those ridiculously meaningless statements that people use to get themselves off the hook, that unhinge your power to connect with them.

  • Nobody’s perfect…
  • I’m only human…
  • I was born this way…

As leaders, if your people bring these into the conversation. Challenge them. You can’t hold people to account when they use ‘integrity stoppers’ like these.  Get them to talk about what’s real, and not hide behind these ‘slippery’ statements.

If you break a promise, own it, clean up, move on.

If you’ve made a mistake or broken a promise. You can’t step over it and pretend it never happened.  Nor should you re-allocate blame. If you make excuses or do a cover-up job on your mistakes, people lose trust and respect.  So, own up, clean up and everyone can move forward. Because if you don’t, it will stink…and the bad smell won’t go away.

You’ve got to restore integrity by owning up and cleaning the slate. Everyone will feel better. Remember, integrity buys trust; trust builds loyalty and what follows, is extra effort that buys you more time.

Ultimately, integrity requires courage. And courage is the stuff of great leaders! We need to hold ourselves in that place of integrity, because when you are in the face of no agreement, all you can rely on is your integrity, and what you’ve given your word to deliver. It may not be easy, but it’s the path of principle that builds your character  – and maintains the trust and respect of your people.



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