Integrity seems to be a big deal and one of the most commonly discussed topics in business. But do we all truly understand the meaning of it? And does this align with what it means to us?
Michael Jensen explains “The primary differentiation I make between integrity, morality and ethics is to distinguish integrity from morality and ethics. Integrity is a positive proposition. It has nothing to do with good vs. bad. Think for a moment about the Law of Gravity: there is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ gravity; like integrity, it just ‘is’. Morality and ethics, on the other hand, are normative concepts in that they deal with matters of good or bad, right vs. wrong. Morality refers to a society’s standards of right and wrong behavior for individuals and groups within that society, while ethics refers to the normative set of values that apply to all members of a group or organization. Thus, both morality and ethics relate to desirable vs. undesirable behavior.”
P.S. I’m going to be referencing Michael Jensen a few times in this blog post as I appreciate his perspective and think there are some valuable lessons to take from it.
Integrity has always been one of my top values even before I truly understood the meaning of it. My dad, as a senior business executive, used to talk about it over and over to us as kids, so we just assumed that because Dad’s talking about it this much, and he’s pretty smart, right? So it must be important?
So how do I personally define integrity today? I have simplified it down to: who I am as a person is staying true to my word and being honest if I’m unable to. And being willing to deal with the consequences as a result of being unable to stay true to my word! This is a non-negotiable for me and my relationship with myself. A few other areas that I didn’t consider until reading Michael Jensen’s article on Integrity was 1) one’s integrity to one’s self and 2) the integrity of objects, systems, processes, etc.
He mentions “One’s word to one’s self is a critical part of integrity. The foundation for being a person of integrity is giving your word to yourself (or declaring to yourself) the following.
First, “Who I am is my word”, and second, “I give my word to myself that I am a person of integrity.” By not being serious when we give our word to ourselves, we forfeit the opportunity to maintain our integrity by honoring our word to ourselves.”
This shows up in our daily lives and can be as simple as; “I’m going to wake up at 6am every day this week to work out”. And then it doesn’t happen, or it can show up as something more serious. For me, this point hit home because I have always thought of myself as a person of integrity. This point made me realize that I had been out of integrity to myself in one MAJOR area. And that was, my emotions and ability to express negative emotions. #avoidancetactics. I have always been a “glass is half full” type of person, or as my step mom would say “the glass is overflowing”. I can always see the silver lining in any situation or find the good in any person, which can be a great quality to have. But I got to the point where something negative or disappointing would happen and my subconscious would automatically “find the bright side” before I even had the chance to feel or acknowledge the disappointment, hurt, etc. Yikes! And as much as being optimistic is important, so is feeling those negative emotions so you can appreciate the positive ones even more.
And if you don’t know my story yet, I have definitely dealt with more than a few obstacles (to say the least) where I was feeling below the line. I also went through a major transition year somewhat recently where I ended 3.5 year relationship that at one point I thought was going to be my
“forever”. And guess what I did? I pushed the emotions away and tried to immerse myself with as many things that brought me joy as I could. And months later I was even more of an emotional wreck and was confused about why I was still so affected by this? Hmmmmm I wonder why?! So this is another area where I was definitely out of integrity and am grateful for that “AHA” moment.
So on to my next point, how the heck can objects or systems have or not have integrity? I’ll leave this one to our main man, Michael again “Consider the experience of dealing with an object that lacks integrity, such as a car. When one or more of its components is missing or malfunctioning, it becomes unreliable and unpredictable, and it creates those same characteristics in our lives: the car fails in traffic; we inadvertently create a traffic jam; we are late for our appointment; and we disappoint our colleagues. In effect, the out-of-integrity car has created a lack of integrity in our life, with all sorts of fallout and repercussions that reduce workability. These effects generally go unrecognized, but they are significant. Integrity creates workability and is a necessary condition for maximum performance.”
So the biggest takeaway from the above point? If your car breaks down making you late for work, tell your boss it’s not your fault and your car was out of integrity! But in all seriousness, let’s think about COVID challenges for a moment. A lot of people lost their jobs and had to wait a while to receive financial support from the government. Was it their fault? Definitely not! BUT the processes in place for this were out of integrity. And that is something that is completely out of your control as someone who may be waiting for this money to come in. Maybe understanding this will allow us to have more compassion for ourselves while dealing with the stress that uncontrollable circumstances have caused.
Now, let’s talk about cost/ benefit analysis. If you went to business school like me, this was likely one of lessons you remember most because they drilled down on it ALL THE TIME. We get it, leave us aloneeee. And now we use this analysis on a regular basis in our lives. Does it have any relevance to integrity?
Michael explains “A great failure of the curriculum of every business school I know: we teach our students the importance of conducting a cost/benefit analysis in everything they do. In most cases, this is useful – but not when it comes to behaving with integrity. In fact, treating integrity (i.e. honoring your word) as a matter of cost/benefit analysis virtually guarantees that you will not be a person of integrity.”
BOOM, MIC DROP.
If you made it to the end of this post, thank you for entertaining my rambling. I hope you were able to take something away from this! My #1 value for my business is integrity, so it was important for me to delve even deeper into it and to explain why.