Until now I thought I knew what integrity was all about. It was something external rather than a state of balance. One of the definitions of integrity is, “the quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.”
What makes you whole or undivided may or may not affect me the same way. Your values determine how you express your own integrity. Integrity is about aligning your values with your actions. This blog started out with a post about integrity because I believe that this is what makes a leader. I believe that integrity is the single most important ingredient in leadership. Integrity is something that you either have or you don’t. You can’t have 90% integrity, just like you can’t be 90% faithful to your spouse. Either you are or you aren’t.
If we’re divided inside because our values do not match our actions, we’re not going to experience integrity and the people around us are going to sense it. Even if we try to hide this division, it is tough to keep up the appearances that everything is OK inside. People can sense it like a wild animal senses the weakness of its prey.
The photo of the fork in the road above represents the situation that forces us to make a choice. Are we going to stay in our own integrity or are we going to choose internal division?
Socrates faced that tough decision when he ran into his fork in the road. He was put on trial and put to death because he refused to change his way of life. He challenged the system and refused to change his principles in order to save his life. He made a difficult decision and chose death rather than having to change his ways. His core value was freedom of thought and chose to die in freedom.
General Robert E. Lee‘s fork in the road came when President Lincoln asked him to lead the Union army on behalf of the North. His home, his family and close friends lived in the South. To turn against his family and friends would have caused him to be divided inside. It was a tough decision because he risked loosing it all including his life.
When Jeffrey Wigand found out that Brown and Williamson was misleading the public about the effects of nicotine, he was faced with his fork in the road. As head of R & D, his goal in joining the company was to develop a safer cigarette. Instead he had become part of the problem. In a moment of courage, he wrote a letter to his boss expressing concerns around the current practices. He was quickly let go losing his comfortable $300,000 salaried job. While helping the FDA come up with key evidence his life was threatened and everyone close to him abandoned him. In order to stay in his integrity, he took great risks that even threatened his life.
Your Insights and Thoughts
- What does integrity mean to you?
- Do you have stories of people who have made tough decisions that tested their integrity?