Summary: Integrity is an interesting word. Everybody wants it. A lot of folks claim to have it. And a lot of folks that claim to have it, turns out, don’t really have so much of it as they led us to believe.

Integrity is an interesting word.

Everybody wants it. A lot of folks claim to have it. And a lot of folks that claim to have it, turns out, don’t really have so much of it as they led us to believe.

All you’ve got to do is watch the evening news. Preachers, politicians, business leaders; all folks you’d expect to be full of integrity, we find out maybe didn’t have so much after all.

Like I said, integrity is an interesting word. We all use it, we look for it in others and, oh yeah, in ourselves. And we all know exactly what it means to have integrity. Integrity means … well, it means … when somebody has integrity, he … well … umm ….

Integrity is an interesting word. We expect it in others. We think we’ve got it, but secretly know we don’t have as much of it as we let on. But we can’t say exactly what it means when we’re put on the spot.

That’s why I figured I’d dig into it a little. I didn’t want to preach to others about integrity without really having a handle on it myself.

I thought about asking the folks who talked about integrity the most, you know, the movers and shakers. I thought about going to our government leaders … but who would I ask? Maybe getting a politician’s advice regarding integrity isn’t such a good idea right now.

I thought about asking religious leaders, but that could get a little dicey too. Maybe we’d better stick with folks we don’t know too personally.


I was a businessman in a former life. I’m a businessman now, I guess, but back then I was a real businessman, if you know what I mean. I’ve always liked books and since I was in the business world for so many years I collected a lot of books about business, leadership, personal effectiveness, success - that kind of stuff. I still have the books so I looked up what the best-of-the-best had to say about “integrity.”

This is what I found out:

Personal effectiveness guru Stephen Covey has a reserved seat at the top of the human empowerment pyramid so I thought I’d hit him first. Covey, in his modern classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has this to say:

• Integrity is the opposite of being “inwardly duplicitous.”

• “Integrity includes but goes beyond honesty. Honesty is telling the truth – in other words, conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words – in other words, keeping promises and fulfilling expectations.”

• “… if we have integrity, our intent cannot be to deceive.”

• “… if we can’t make and keep commitments to ourselves as well as others, our commitments become meaningless.”

Corporate leadership gurus James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner weigh in on personal integrity in their business textbook, The Leadership Challenge.

“You cannot lead others until you have first led yourself through a struggle with opposing values …. personal integrity is essential to believability. A leader with integrity has one self, at home and at work, with family and colleagues. He or she has a unifying set of values that guide choices of action regardless of the situation. This does not mean that leaders are one-dimensional people who only focus narrowly on their work …. We are not suggesting that the ideal leader is a saint. However, we are suggesting that leaders who cannot personally adhere to a firm set of values cannot convince others of the worthiness of those values. Leaders without integrity are only putting on an act. The believability and credibility so essential for leadership are earned when your behavior is consistent with your beliefs.”

Lastly, management gurus, Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, in their book, Leaders, contribute: “In order for an organization to have integrity, it must have an identity – that is, a sense of who it is and what it is to do.”

Okie-dokie. The gurus of personal effectiveness, business leadership and management have all weighed in. Let’s try to boil it down into something we can use.

Covey seems to be good at telling us what integrity isn’t. According to Covey integrity isn’t “inwardly duplicitous,” “deceptive,” or “meaningless.”

If I look up the opposite of all that, I get that he’s saying integrity is similar to honesty; but he also say’s it’s more than honesty. This is about the best I can get from Covey regarding what integrity is: “keeping promises and fulfilling expectations.” No wonder Covey’s so popular in the business world; he’s turned integrity into a McDonald’s slogan.

Kouzes, Posner, Bennis and Nanus are a little more practical. According to them integrity has to do with knowing who you are and allowing your values to guide your actions. That sounds pretty good. You have integrity “when your behavior is consistent with your beliefs.”

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