In most cases when we tend to think of somebody with integrity, we think of somebody we can count on to come through on whatever they promise.  Unfortunately, that is not always a real safe bet these days.

Over the past few years I have really noticed a change in the way we use the word “INTEGRITY”.  Having integrity requires staying true to your word – even if it is difficult, inconvenient or expensive to do so.  But these says I hear more and more people using the word as if it means being true to themselves, even if that means leaving somebody else to clean up the mess.

I guess depending on how you look at it, it could quite possibly look like a win if we are trying to save ourselves from difficulty and discomfort, but it will come back to bite us in the ass at the end.  Nothing will destroy credibility faster than bailing on a commitment.

Definitely More to the Story…

“To thine own self be true” Heard that before?  Yes, it is Hamlet.  It became popular through hundreds of self-help books and programs.  I have heard it in conferences, meetings, etc.  There is nothing wrong with these words by themselves.  Unfortunately in most cases they are taken out of context.

If you read the play or have seen it, you know the full story. The phrase comes after advice about being prudent and preserving friendships. The idea is that we are true to ourselves so that others can count on what we say. It was about having true integrity.

But if you listen to the way people use it today, they usually mean something else. “To thine own self be true” is often used as an excuse to do whatever a person wants instead of what’s expected—or even what they’ve already committed to. This is complete suicide in business and in life for that matter.

Not only is integrity essential for strong friendships, it’s crucial for all of our relationships. “Honesty,” says Stephen Covey, “is making your words conform to reality. Integrity is making reality conform to your words.” We won’t get far in life without it.

Just think about your work. Without the kind of integrity Covey describes, you cannot be an effective leader. Why?

  1. Trust depends on integrity. If people can’t rely on your word, they just won’t trust you.  They may extend some grace, but eventually, people will doubt and disbelieve.
  2. Influence depends on trust. People will refuse the influence of leaders they distrust. Just look at how this plays out in politics or the media. We follow people we trust.
  3. Impact depends on influence. You can’t make the impact you want unless you can influence others and shift their behavior.

Now think of some other relationships: parenting, dating, marriage, sports, etc.  The strength of our relationships is measured by how much people can count on us. If we’re not true to our words, that means our relationships will be as unreliable as we are.

Not Without Cost (Painful I know)

Yes, keeping our word can sometimes be very costly. I’ve had times in my career when it’s been expensive to do the right thing.

One time I had to uphold an exorbitant commitment of an executive I let go, even though he didn’t have the authority to make the agreement in the first place. The P&L was already hemorrhaging, but the cost of not following through would have been more expensive to the company in the long run.

There’s nothing wrong with asking to be released from a commitment. But if we can’t get free, then we need to make good on it. If we try living true to ourselves at the expense of others, it’ll cost us our relationships, our success, and ultimately everything of real and lasting value.  I definitely do not want to leave that type of legacy, do you?

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