Preserving Integrity

Consistently Making the Right Choices

Preserving Integrity - Consistently Making the Right Choices

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Preserve your integrity.

You do not wake up one morning a bad person. It happens by a thousand tiny surrenders of self-respect to self-interest. – American writer Robert Brault

Nancy's boss has just let her know that her client's order is about to leave the company's warehouse. As she picks up the phone to call them, he tells her there's a problem.

"The shipment was damaged by someone on our warehouse team," he says. "There are some dings, but this shouldn't affect the product's performance. If they complain, we'll blame it on the trucking company that delivered it to us."

Nancy pauses, feeling uncomfortable. "But didn't our warehouse crew damage the product?" Her boss shrugs. "Yeah, but the customer doesn't know that. I'll just file a claim now, saying it was damaged on delivery. Don't worry, the client won't even notice the damage."

Nancy's boss walks out and she sits at her desk, unsure what to do. She knows it's dishonest to blame the damage on the trucking company. It's also dishonest to deceive her client, and give them a less than perfect product.

Many of us have to make decisions that define who we are and what we believe in. Most often, the choices we face may seem insignificant. But this doesn't mean that they're not important to us: even the smallest action can have an impact on our self-respect, our integrity, and, ultimately, our reputation.

In a world where headlines are often dominated by people who make the wrong choices, people who make the right ones can seem to be rare. However, it feels good to live and work with integrity and, when we become known for this highly valued trait, our lives and our careers can flourish.

In this article we'll examine what integrity is, and we'll see how we can develop it and preserve it by making the right choices in life.

What Is Integrity?

Integrity is a characteristic that many of us value in ourselves, and it's one we look for consistently in our leaders. But what does it really mean to have integrity?

The Random House Dictionary defines integrity as:

  1. Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
  2. The state of being whole, entire or undiminished.
  3. A sound, unimpaired or perfect condition.

Although the definition is sound, it can be a bit more complex to define integrity in our everyday lives.

You could say that integrity is always doing the right thing, even when no one is looking, and even when the choice isn't easy. Or, you might see integrity as staying true to yourself and your word, even when you're faced with serious consequences for the choices that you're making.

Alternatively, look at the second and third of these definitions. These were likely meant for structures, such as the integrity of a building. But we can just as easily apply this definition to ourselves. When we have integrity, we're whole and in perfect condition, and we're not compromised by awkward "inconsistencies."

When we live our lives with integrity, it means that we're always honest, and we let our actions speak for who we are and what we believe in. Integrity is a choice we make, and it's a choice we must keep making, every moment of our lives.

Why Is Integrity Important?

There are several reasons why integrity is so important.

First, living a life of integrity means that we never have to spend time or energy questioning ourselves. When we listen to our hearts and do the right thing, life becomes simple. Our life, and our actions, are open for everyone to see, and we don't have to worry about hiding anything.

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When we have integrity, we gain the trust of our leaders, our colleagues and our team. We're dependable, and, when we hold ourselves accountable for our actions, we become role models for others to follow.

All of this, in turn, directly impacts our success in life. People who live and work with integrity are more likely to be considered for promotions. Why? Because integrity is a hallmark of ethical leadership – organizations want leaders that they can trust, and when you demonstrate integrity, you show everyone you can be trusted.

How to Develop and Preserve Integrity

The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour. – Japanese Proverb

Your integrity is what determines your reputation, and, just as this proverb states, all it can take is a single bad choice to destroy a lifetime's worth of integrity.

So, how can you work on developing and preserving your own integrity?

Step 1: Define Your Values

You can't live by values if you don't know what you truly believe in. So, start by defining your core values . These are the values that, no matter what the consequence, you're not going to compromise on.

Step 2: Analyze Every Choice You Make

Often, people cut corners or make bad choices when they think no one is watching. Having integrity means that, no matter what, you make the right choice – especially when no one is watching!

You'll usually know what's right and wrong, although sometimes you might need some quiet time to figure it out. If you're not sure what the right choice is, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. "If my choice was printed on the front page of the newspaper for everyone to see, would I feel OK about it?"
  2. "If I make this choice, will I feel OK with myself afterwards?"

Remember, honesty and integrity aren't values that you should live by when it's convenient; they're values that you should live by all the time. This includes the big choices and the little choices – the choices everyone sees, and the choices that no one sees.

Step 3: Encourage Integrity

People with integrity often have the same characteristics: they're humble, they have a strong sense of self, they have high self-esteem, and they're self-confident. These characteristics are important, because, sometimes, you'll be under intense pressure from others to make the wrong choice.

Work on building and improving these characteristics within yourself, so that you have the strength and courage to do the right thing when the time comes. Build your self-confidence and self-esteem , and work on developing character . Spend time getting to know yourself, and what you believe in. Develop friendships and work relationships with others who demonstrate integrity, and who will support your decisions.

Further Tips:

  • Learn how to be assertive , so that you can defend an ethical position from an adult point of view, without whining or being aggressive.
  • Avoid white lies. They may seem harmless, but tiny lies are still lies. Always tell the truth.
  • Learn to take responsibility for your actions. If you make a mistake, own up to it immediately and do whatever it takes to right the situation.
  • Keep your word, and don't make promises that you know you can't keep.
  • Keep in mind that in times of fear, disaster and chaos, the temptation is even greater to make a wrong choice. Use these opportunities to demonstrate your true character.
  • Avoid seeming self-satisfied or priggish when you're acting with integrity: stay humble and down-to-earth, don't look for approval, and, where you sensibly can, try to let people save face.

So, how should Nancy, who we mentioned at the start of this article, have dealt with her boss?

She should have dealt with the situation assertively, right away. She could have asked for a private meeting and said something like, "I'm worried about this. Even if the product works, the clients will be upset when they see the damage, and they may not want to order from us again. And the shipping company will be annoyed, too, and we use them a lot. Wouldn't it be better to tell the truth?"

Key Points

Having integrity means that you live in accordance to your deepest values, you're honest with everyone, and you always keep your word.

Integrity is a highly valued trait, especially in leaders. When you live with integrity, you're more likely to be considered for important promotions and leadership positions.

To develop and protect your integrity, start by identifying your core values. These are the values that you refuse to compromise on, no matter what. Next, analyze every choice you make to ensure that you're doing the right thing.

Then, develop a culture of integrity around you, work on building your self-confidence and self-esteem, and develop relationships with others who live with integrity.

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Comments (8)
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi April,

    You demonstrate great insight into the topic of ethical behavior and integrity. What you say about the pursuit of success and profit at any cost has resulted in unethical behavior in organizations. There are numerous examples in the business literature and we frequently hear about instances in the media. The latest example is Volkswagon and the car emissions scandal. Just because some companies don't make ethical decisions or demonstrate ethical behavior doesn't define success for everyone else. Volkswagon is paying dearly for its unethical behavior and a once "successful" business is losing loyal customers as well as billions of dollars.

    I would like to clarify the intent behind Peter Drucker's quote, "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” What Drucker was referring to is the difference between increasing the efficiency of existing processes and making the right strategic decisions for the business. The focus of management is to maximize efficiency and productivity - improving processes to remove unnecessary steps and make the best use of resources (people, materials and money). The focus of leadership is to set the strategic direction for the company -- the purpose, vision and goals.

    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago Paolo wrote
    Hi April, I'm Paolo from the Philippines. This article is great and it really moved me. I'm a trainer and currently working on an assignment about 'doing the right thing' and I'd like to ask for your professional opinion about it. Many say that doing the right thing is synonymous to being effective or being successful.

    Even Peter Drucker defined 'Doing the right thing' as being effective, and 'Doing things right' as being efficient, which I find incorrect. What if being successful compromises doing the right thing? Isn't that we are effective because we did things right but it does not necessarily mean we did the right thing? Success is not guaranteed regardless if we do the right thing or not. And doing things right means effectiveness and efficiency but it doesn't mean you did the right thing contrary to Peter Drucker's definition.

    There's this case study I had in my Ethics class when I was taking my MBA about a pharmaceutical company that created a medicine which killed many patients. Obviously, the right thing to do here is to pay for the damages to the family of the victims. But in doing so, this will cause the company to become bankrupt. In reality, companies would choose to be silent about it and put the blame on others to save face just to be successful.

    I observed that many people nowadays lookup to 'successful people' --- thinking that 'successful people' are successful because they did the right thing. But isn't this wrong? I observe that many of us compromise doing the right thing just to be successful and twist the truth that if you are successful, it means that you did the right thing. Shouldn't we be consistent in doing the right thing even in the face of adversity or at the expense of success?

    I really appreciate if you can share me your professional and honest opinion about it. My email is

    More power to you and thank you for a very wonderful article!


  • Over a month ago ladyb wrote
    Good for you April! I hope you feel very proud of your decision. It's the strong and capable among us who stand up for what they know is right. Your example is proof that it can be done.

    Thank you very much for sharing and for being who you are. Onward and upward!!

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