Integrating Integrity

Integrating Integrity Image by: Claire Newton

If you ask someone to list their values, the chances are they will mention ‘integrity’, but ask them to define integrity, or how it affects their lives, and they can’t.

We are taught from an early age that integrity is a good value to uphold, but we don’t really know what it is!

So what is integrity all about and what does it mean?

 Defining Integrity

If you look up a dictionary definition, you will find that “integrity” is a noun. It comes from the Latin integritās (integer) and means:

  1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness; adherence to moral and ethical principles; honesty.
    (E.g. He is known to be a man of integrity)

  2. Unity; wholeness; the state of being whole and undivided; entire, or undiminished; the condition of being unified
    (E.g. To preserve the integrity of the empire)

  3. The quality of being unimpaired or sound in construction; a sound, or perfect condition; unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting;
    (E.g. The integrity of a ship's hull; the structural integrity of the novel/building)

Are Integrity and Morality the Same?

Integrity and morality are often confused, but there is a difference.

Morality implies a set of external rules that come from your religion or culture, whereas integrity refers to an internal set of principles – a personal quest that takes courage and inner honesty to define and apply.

French philosopher Albert Camus said: “Integrity has no need of rules”, which implies that a person of integrity will do the right thing without the need for rules.

The value of integrity is that it does not require extensive moral rules, policies and codes of conduct. As C.S Lewis said: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

In most companies, the ethical conduct required of employees is all rule based, and when rules are broken, or loopholes are found to avoid or break the policy, more rules have to be written! This is obviously a never ending process, resulting in more and more rules, policies and codes of conduct for employees to understand and master. It is better to deal with the issue of personal integrity of employees.

What Does Integrity Mean for us as Human Beings?

As mentioned, the root of integrity is ‘integer’ which means a whole. Related words are ‘integral’, ‘integrated’ and ‘integration’.

Having integrity means doing the right thing in a reliable way. It's a personality trait that we admire, because it means a person has a moral compass that doesn't waver. It literally means having ‘wholeness’ of character, just as an integer is a ‘whole number’ with no fractions.

Integrity is therefore, the opposite of separateness and segregation. We are part of the whole – an integral part of a family, a business, a community and a country. Believing we are separate will result in a breakdown of personal integrity. If we want to examine our integrity, we must examine ourselves in relation to others, and in relation to the whole.

When you are not sure what is the right thing to do in a situation, ask yourself a few simple questions to come up with the right answer. For example, “How will this decision affect others?”; “Am I considering how this will make other people feel?”; “How will this affect the future?”; “Will I be proud to tell my parents, children or friends that I did this?”

Doing the right thing is an incredibly important thing. It will affect your friendships, your family, your community and your future. Little choices that we make can have big consequences on ourselves and others.

“Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.”

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

How do we Behave with Integrity?

Congruence is important in integrity. Congruence is about being in tune or in agreement – having your thoughts, feelings and behaviour all match. Incongruence is a mismatch. An example of incongruence can be seen in the following example: A wife is looking unusually upset – there is clearly something wrong. Her Husband asks, “What’s wrong?” She snaps: “Nothing!” That’s incongruence.

Integrity also involves being mindful of…

  • The past in your
  • Present actions while being
  • Accountable to the future.

We are an integral part of our past, present and future. In order to be whole we need to explore and understand past influences, how they affect our lives in the present and what our responsibility is to the future – for ourselves, family, community and country. This is important because:

  • Denial of the past infers that you deny that you are part of how you got to where you are.
  • Denial of the present implies you are cut off from your present relationships.
  • Denial of the future means you assume no responsibility for the outcome.

In a broader sense, if we want to behave with integrity we need three core competencies:

  • Memory – affirms the past and acknowledges our history
  • Ecological awareness – understanding relational patterns in our present
  • Stewardship – caring for the world for the next generation

Integrity is about being aware of these three and finding a balance between them, even though they sometime conflict with one another.

What Impact Does Integrity Have on our Lives?

Integrity is the foundation of constructive relationships and ethical practice.

When we function with integrity we create wholeness and harmony. We bring people together.

On a personal level we create:

  • Harmony between the mind, body and spirit
  • Ease between past, present and future
  • Agreement between thoughts feelings and actions

When we do not function with integrity we become separate and create division.

On a personal level we create:

  • Disharmony between the mind, body and spirit
  • Tension between past, present and future
  • Conflict between thoughts feelings and actions

In other words without integrity we are in a state of incongruence and we betray some part of ourselves. This is the origin of sickness on a personal, company, societal and global level. Lack of integrity leads to betrayal, mistrust, fear, defensive behaviour, personal gain and disloyalty. Note that this is exactly what the ethical rule books try to stop!

The consequences of integrity, or the lack of it, can be summed up as follows: 

IntegrityLack of Integrity
Integration Fragmentation
Sustainability Unsustainability
Growth Stagnation
Health Illness and death
Optimal Performance Mediocre performance
Public gain Personal gain
Contribution Exploitation
Gratitude Entitlement
Trust Betrayal
Loyalty Treachery
Courage Fear
Hope Despair

Why is Integrity so Important in Business?

The answer is simple: Integrity is important because we need to build sustainable relationships if we want to sustain business.

The primary function of a business is not to make a profit. The primary function of a business is to stay in business – to be sustainable. Sustainability implies a future vision. Part of having integrity is being an integral part of the whole. We need to be stewards for the future. So the concern of business people should be for the future, not only the future of their own business, but also for the future of the country and the people in it.

The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires,

but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”

Bob Marley

If we deny the future and the impact our behaviour has on it, we will develop a sense of entitlement rather than contribution. We will become exploiters. We will think in terms of payback and retribution. If we want to avoid this, we will need to change our attitude.

There is a circular process from personal integrity, to congruence, to ethical conduct, to trust, to sustainable relationships, to sustainable business. They lead to each other and from each other. 

sustainable business flow diagram