When you hear the word integrity what do you think of?
Honesty? Doing what you say? Maybe authenticity? Do you intertwine integrity with character?
If you’re like most of us, you’ve answered yes to many if not all these ideas about integrity. This understanding of integrity is anchored in three things—people’s perception of us, our actions, and consistency over time. The funny thing about this is that two out of the three are what other people see and aren’t really about integrity per se but about someone’s experience of our integrity.
When we take away peoples’ experience of our integrity, what we’re left with is our actions. This makes some sense when you think of the dictum, “Actions speak louder than words.” In using this phrase we’re calling attention to a person’s integrity or lack thereof by noting his actions. Action, what a person chooses to do, is a part of our integrity. However, action is only one of five things that comprise integrity.
So what exactly is integrity made of and why does it matter?
Integrity comprises your wants, intentions, decisions, actions and commitments. For right now let’s focus on the first four, which together comprise the process of decision-making. We’ll come back to commitments a little later.
Here’s an example of the decision-making process.
I want to walk. I intend to walk. I decide to walk. I walk.
There are two ways we witness a decision of another—through an action and when a person wants to manifest her will with a skill called congruence.
Congruence is simply the statement of my current decision—I walk. You know my congruence is off—that I’m incongruent—when what I say doesn’t match what I do.
I’m not aligned. I am out of integrity.
The process of decision-making is made up of want, intend, decide, do.
We can sit at one point in the process for short or long periods of time. There’s no right or wrong place to be in the process. For example, I intend to go to the doctor, and I make a note to call for an appointment. When I call for the appointment I’ve decided to go to the doctor. When I go to the doctor I’m at the point of acting on my decision.
Shall we keep going? Wants, intentions, decisions, and actions are critical parts of integrity, but there’s one more act of the will we want to talk about, commitments.
A commitment is anything we say yes to—our agreements, promises, declarations, and visions.
Let’s look at each of these four types of commitments individually.
An agreement is my yes to act now or in the future. Let’s say a friend calls and wants to go to dinner on Friday night. I say yes. She says yes. We work out the time, details, and who is responsible for what. We have an agreement.
A promise is my yes to act now and continue to act until my promise is fulfilled. I will. I do. A promise may be for life, as with a marriage, or it can be for a short duration, as for a project. Regardless of the duration of the promise, it is made without condition.
A declaration of universal intent is my saying what I know. It is an act of declaring without condition that something is—period. Each declaration is personal, as all knowledge exists in a knower.
Here’s an example: Responsibility is and consequences are. What that means is that regardless of your decision, action, or desire for something, you are responsible and there are consequences. Choose or don’t, act or don’t, you are responsible and there are consequences. I encourage my clients to choose because either way, you’re responsible. Wouldn’t you rather decide which set of things you’re going to deal with? I know I would.
A vision is something in you that you want others to follow. A vision is personal and created by an individual. It is a single statement that is generative and declares what is to be created. A vision speaks to a multitude of constituents and garners the commitment of followers. Lastly, a vision is something that is lived now and something that is not yet achieved. It is declaring that something is, even while that something does not yet exist in the fullest sense of the declaration. And an important aspect of your vision is that you must commit to it—an articulated vision void of a commitment to that vision is nothing more than some words on a piece of paper. When you commit to your vision, you do so without condition.
Why does all this matter?
Because integrity is about being aligned.
If you’re aligned, honesty is a by-product. Authenticity is a by-product. So too is consistency. It is in view of the by-products of integrity—specifically, honesty and consistency—that we often connect integrity to character.
However, connecting up the two is a mistake.
Integrity and character are related, but character is something altogether different.
Character is keeping your commitments—it’s engaging and relating fully to your responsibility and to the consequences of your decisions and actions.
It’s making decisions you own, not decisions you defend.
Here’s where the two intersect. If I am making a decision with my integrity is out of alignment, I am not likely to follow through. When asked about my decision or when looking to communicate my absence of follow-through I will tell you a tale, give you an excuse, and justify my out. This is a decision I defend, not own.
This shows an absence of character. That is no small thing.
How do you know if you’re making decisions and commitments that aren’t aligned with your integrity?
Anything but a yes is a no. If you have a maybe, it’s a no. If you have a yes with conditions attached, it’s a no. This is a great and easy way to do an integrity check on yourself.
Another handy way is tuning into your experience in the moment.
I feel like it isn’t a stretch to say we all feel it when we’re saying yes to something that we really don’t want to do. The bodily tension we feel is a great indicator that something is off—essentially that you’re about to do something that violates your integrity.