Integrity is more than just being honest. Integrity also means consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. Integrity is regarded as the truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. An individual with integrity is the antidote to self-interest.
We live in a world where “the end justifies the means” has become an acceptable school of thought for far too many individuals. Sales executives overpromise and under deliver, all in the name of making their quarterly quota. Applicants exaggerate their resumes because they desperately need a job. CEOs overstate their annual projected earnings without the full buy-in or understanding from their team. Entrepreneurs overstate their pro formas because they want the highest valuation possible from an investor. Investors understate a company’s value in order to negotiate a lower valuation in a deal. Employees call in “sick” because they don’t have any more paid time off. In each case, the person committing the act of dishonesty told themselves they had a perfectly valid or rational reason why the end result justified their lack of integrity. Over time, such behavior - while wrong - becomes the norm.
The good news is that integrity is not just for saints and heroes. Living with integrity is within reach for all of us. Here are a few of the traits we can all work on to live with the virtue of integrity.
We are not born with - or without - integrity. Integrity is a behavior-based virtue we can cultivate over time. We can set a goal to show more integrity in everyday life and we can reach that goal by practicing the behaviors above, as well as countless others which too often go unnoticed.
Before we can embrace the notion of integrity, we need to develop the ability to intellectually wrestle with the urge to rationalize away our underlying faults and the related consequences. Intellectual ownership produces authenticity, and authenticity doesn’t tolerate self-rationalization. Our actions must mirror our words in all facets of life.
Embracing a life of integrity is a journey of progressive steps; it is not a quickly achieved destination. Living with integrity requires a great deal of personal courage. The search for integrity does not guarantee absolute certainty between right and wrong. Nor does it guarantee peace. Integrity is incompatible with complacency -- especially with institutions and cultures that oppress others by forcing their own views and beliefs upon others. Integrity is a virtue that can change society even as we allow it to change ourselves.
If I could choose only one value to live by, it would be this: Success will come and go, but integrity is forever. Integrity means doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether or not anyone is watching. It takes having the courage to do the right thing, no matter what the consequences will be. It is realizing we are all fundamentally flawed and that living with integrity takes conscious and continuous work. Building a reputation of integrity takes years. It takes only a second to lose.
Success defined in dollars or power is temporary. But success defined as a network of people who trust you as a person of integrity is forever.
Michael is an executive coach, entrepreneur, investor, and strategist with 30 years of experience leading investor-backed, high-growth organizations.
“I built and sold a $40M company with Dr. Burcham as my mentor. This is the thing: if you EVER get the opportunity to learn from this man, from that moment forward, you’ll list him as one of the most influential people in your life, even if you live to be 90. And, you’ll know how lucky you were to have that opportunity and you’ll immediately say YES to any chance to be in his presence again—his wisdom is that impactful.”
“If you are looking for a trusted mentor and coach for yourself or your leadership team, I highly recommend Michael Burcham. He has worked with me as my executive coach for well over a decade now. Our conversations and his feedback have helped me sharpen my critical thinking skills. He’s a trusted advisor that I can confidentially speak with about any issue—and I know I’ll get valued feedback. I highly recommend him.”
“Dr. Burcham’s depth and breadth of experience makes even the most ADD entrepreneurial leader sit up and take notes! His coaching skills bring out the ‘best you’ possible. He selflessly shares the good, the bad, and the ugly—leaving you with an authentic and moving experience sure to spur action and professional growth!”
Looking for a professional development coach or a career change?
Do you need help developing your management teams or creating a strategic plan?
Wanting to build engagement around innovation or teach your team to build investor value?