What Does Integrity Mean to You?

I meet a number of people who have great ideas. And, in order to “push” the ideas through the organization, they tell me that the ends justify the means.

I don’t buy that. That’s not congruent behavior. These people are thinking about themselves. They’re thinking about the context. However, the way they treat the other person/people isn’t right.

Do I think that we always have to tell the truth? Even if ends-justify-means is better for people?

I think so.

Many years ago, I shared an office with a guy, Tim (not his real name), who specialized in keeping very large piles of printouts. Some of those printouts were about my height.

I wasn’t comfortable in our office. (I’m not known for my office cleanliness, but this was more than I could take.) I asked him several times to toss/recycle/whatever all the paper he didn’t need anymore.

He always had something better to do.

One day, a Very Important Customer visited. I said to Tim, “I think they’re here to buy us. You should clean things up so they don’t get turned off by our office.” (This was a possibility. We were a startup and our management made no bones about wanting to be bought.)

He spent the next four hours cleaning up our office. I was thrilled. I could walk around my office with ease.

The next day, Tim asked me about the possible buyout. I told him I suspected it was not going to happen.

He checked with other people and they told him they’d never heard anything about it.

Tim was a little angry and a lot resigned. He said, “Well, you got what you wanted. But you lied to me.”

I said, “I didn’t exactly lie. I suggested a scenario and you believed it. Are you upset you cleaned up our office?”

He said, “Not really. But I wish you’d told me the truth.”

I didn’t remind him I’d told him again and again about cleaning the office. I still smiled when I thought of the situation. But, I wasn’t totally honest.

The ends justified the means. Our office was getting dangerous. And, did I still have integrity?

I’m not sure. Yes, I’d achieved a greater good, but was it at the cost of trust? And, did that matter?

I decided years ago that I would no longer be underhanded. I would be more truthful. Now, I would explain to Tim that the office was dangerous for me and I had expectations for an office mate. I would have offered more possibilities. And, I would have asked to change offices. I would have been more congruent. I would have retained my integrity.

In the Modern Management Made Easy books, I use this definition of integrity:

  • Honesty: not lying.
  • Fairness: balancing the needs of everyone.
  • Consistency: behavior is predictable.
  • Taking responsibility: not blaming others.
  • Treating people with respect.

Integrity requires the courage to live your values. Not to appease others (placating) or ignore the context and push through your solution. Too many of us work in places where our managers challenge our integrity every day.

My question for you: Did I miss anything? Would you remove anything or add to this list?

A manager who doesn’t act with integrity might be worse than a manager who appears to be selfish. I have trouble knowing how the person without integrity will act, and that’s the problem.

That is the question this week: What does integrity mean to you?

2 thoughts on “What Does Integrity Mean to You?”

  1. Integrity is living your values. If you do something against your values, you are not living in integrity.

    The question is: what are your values? A follow-up question is: are your values congruent within your organization?

    I value plain honesty — no spin, no carefully crafted narrative. Give it to me straight, rip the band-aid, lay it right out there. If there are things you can’t tell me, tell me that.

    Two companies ago I worked for a woman who communicated in spin and narrative, rather than just telling her directs what was actually going on so we could problem solve with her. I never felt like she was telling me the full truth; I frequently felt manipulated by her. Maybe she was telling me the truth in her own way, maybe she wasn’t actually manipulating me. I don’t know. I suppose she was living in full integrity with her own values, but I never trusted her. Her values were not congruent with mine.

    From my perspective, she was not a woman of integrity. But that’s because I’m measuring by the yardstick of my own values.

    1. Jim, I happen to agree with you. I wonder if the woman who communicated in spin and narrative felt dishonest, or if she was living the company’s values? Sometimes, I have a chance to ask, and often, these people don’t feel safe to live their real values. Sometimes, they have no idea how. The incongruity between hers and your values is key.

      When people don’t feel safe enough to have a congruent conversation, their integrity is at stake. Too often, they placate the managers above them in the organization. That’s why I find that congruence and integrity are closely linked.

      Thanks for such a great example.

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