Estimated Lesson Time: 4 minutes
The word “integrity” is probably the most overused and most misunderstood word on resumes. So many people use it, but very few actually know what it means. By definition, integrity means “a steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.” Whose moral or ethical code? Your parents’? The Catholic church’s? Your friend’s? Having integrity is doing what is consistent with your beliefs, and living by the moral or ethical code you have chosen to adopt. All too often individuals will say things they believe others want to hear, rather than saying what they believe. An example is the single guy who will say anything and everything to get that first date. Having integrity is about being and acting as the real you.
I believe one cannot be truly successful without integrity. Without integrity, one can have the appearance of success or even short-term success. However, acting without integrity will lead to guilt, which will eventually lead to a self-destruction of one’s temporary successes. Acting without integrity has even been linked to physical illnesses such as nausea and headaches. It is the desire for short-term gain or immediate gratification that usually causes one to act without integrity, however, the damage it does to one’s self-esteem, cancels out any short-term gain.
Integrity is one of the easiest qualities to detect, or detect the lack of, in people you know well. When you know someone well, you are familiar with the actions they have taken in the past and are able to detect inconsistencies. It is these inconsistencies that are usually the result of acting without integrity. When you do act with integrity, others feel as if they can trust you because your actions are more predictable. If they know your beliefs, they can anticipate your behavior and count on you. Integrity is one of the most sought after qualities by parents, employers, and customers.
Do you have integrity? Let’s take the classic wallet test. Answer this question to yourself and be completely honest. You find a wallet on the street filled with about $500 in cash, credit cards, drivers license and other cards. What do you do? Do you
- keep the cash, ditch the wallet
- keep the cash, return the wallet
- keep the cash, try to use the cards to charge as much as possible online where you won’t get caught
- return the wallet with all cash to the owner, based on the information on their driver’s license
Now, how would you answer this question if asked by a reporter on national TV? If your answer was the same for both questions, you have integrity. Yes, even if your answer was C. Integrity is about doing what is consistent with your beliefs, no matter what they are. If, by the way, your answer was anything but D, you may want to take some time to review your beliefs.
Here are some integrity-building suggestions:
- Don’t lie. Lying is often associated with lack of integrity, even if the lying is “justified.” Once one is labeled a liar, it is very difficult for that person to be seen as having integrity. As Baltasar Gracian once said, “A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity.”
- Don’t exaggerate. Exaggeration is just another form of lying, although usually less malicious.
- Respond, don’t react. Think before you speak or do. When we act on emotion, we do not always act in accordance with our beliefs.
- Know your beliefs. Before you can act consistently with your beliefs, you must know what they are.
- Strive for long-term success. Do not be tempted by immediate gratification at the expense of long-term success. Always keep the big picture in your mind.
If you are one who will do “whatever it takes” to succeed, you have the right attitude and certainly the spirit. Just realize that to succeed you must act with integrity at all times and your beliefs must not only be empowering, but they must be ones that do not cause harm to others. Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)