The Ins and Outs of Integrity

I tried to lie once.

I had decided to take my three kids skiing, and was stressing about spending the money.  As we approached the ticket window, plodding along in ski boots and bundled in winter coats, hats, and gloves, I noticed on the sign that children under the age of five were free.  My youngest had just turned five a few weeks back, and I realized I could save $35 by pawning her off as a four-year old!   She was small for her age, I rationalized, and will hardly ski anyway — it would be fine. However when I got up to the ticket counter, and told the attendant I needed two child tickets (for my older two) and “this one’s free”, pointing to her, he assertively smiled and said, “Great, what’s her birthdate?”

I panicked.  Should I add a year to her year of birth to take one away?  Wait–she is five now — so I go down a year — no — up a year — oh, why didn’t I listen better in Math?! I blurted out a date and he replied, nodding, with a comical look on his face, “Yeah, that would make her seven!”

He caught me in my lie.  I sheepishly paid the full price for her ticket and walked away in shame.  Worse than my flushed cheeks, my three little kids witnessed “mommy’s temporary memory loss” which obviously wasn’t that at all.  Later they asked me why I’d lied, and I told them I wanted to save money, and my middle child said, “But that wouldn’t be fair to others who have to pay, would it?” She had me there.  Was my attempt to twist the truth really worth the $35?  A few months later, my little one asked me something, and when I answered, she responded, “Is that true or is that like when you tried to tell that man I was four.” Ugh.  What seemed like such a small thing actually turned into a much bigger hurdle for me to overcome in establishing trust with my kids again.  And while living in integrity is much more than not telling a little white lie now and then, what comes out of our mouth is a reflection of who we are. Albert Einstein said it well,

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

Our integrity (or lack of) defines whether or not we are someone who can be relied upon, trusted, and believed.  Do you lie often or do you mostly tell the truth?  I say mostly because a research study was published in 2002 by Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts, who discovered that most people lie every day. The study showed that 60% of people aren’t able to have a ten minute conversation without telling at least one lie, and those in the Pinocchio category tend to tell two to three lies in the same ten minute period! (http://mentalfloss.com/article/30609/60-people-cant-go-10-minutes-without-lying)

I know, we’d like to think that we are the ones who fall into the 40%, but listen to closely to yourself in your next conversation.  Did you stretch the truth — just a little bit?  Mention a few extra details that didn’t exactly take place to get an extra laugh?  Not tell the whole story leading the listener to believe something about you that just isn’t quite accurate?

Integrity is defined by most as the quality of being honest and possessing strong moral principles. And it’s our integrity — especially when we’re in a leadership role — that establishes a sense of trust and reliability from those we work with. Integrity is a key competency of emotional intelligence and truth-telling is just one of the factors that make up one’s integrity.  Barbara De Angelis, relationship and personal growth advisor, puts it this way:

Living with integrity means:  Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships.  Asking for what you want and need from others.  Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension.  Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values.  Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.”

Take this short quiz to see if you are living in integrity.  Ask yourself and answer with a yes or no:

  • Do I always follow through on my commitments?
  • Do I know my values and live by them at all times?
  • Do I accept accountability for my actions, even if they “get me in trouble”?
  • Do I take a stand for what I believe is right, even in the face of opposition?
  • Do I give credit to those who deserve it?
  • Do I treat all people with respect, not only to their face, but behind their back?
  • Do I attempt to obey the ‘spirit of the law’ (the whys behind it) as opposed to just the letter of the law?
  • Do I do the right thing when no one is looking?

If you can answer yes to these questions, then you are well on your way to being a person of high integrity.  Now, turn to a friend or colleague and ask them to answer the same questions about you.  Are their findings the same as yours?

If you came up with “sometimes”, or even a few no’s, then good news!, you’re now seeing the areas of your integrity that could use some work.  The first step in building more integrity is to truly know your own personal values.  What is really important to you? Take some time to write them down, in any order.  Then go back, and circle the ones that are most valuable to you. Prioritize them.

Now, take a good look at your day-to-day life.  Are you living out these values? An easy way to find this out is to look at your calendar app and notice if the things you’re spending your time doing are matching up with the values you circled.  If you’re seeing a miss between your highest values and how you’re spending your time, then it’s time to lay out a personal action plan to remedy this.  Note in which situations are the conflicts most often arising (be specific — in meetings with your boss, or when you are working alone at home, or when you are out making new business connections, or when you feel nervous, etc.).  You may begin to see a trend as to the specific situations that challenge your integrity.  Recognizing these moments as ‘trigger points’ can help you prepare beforehand to make a stronger attempt to live out your values when the situation arises.

Finally, think, “What is one action I could take, today, when in that situation, to make a shift toward living out my values?” Then get out there and give it a try.  As with most things, practice makes perfect.

Since that fateful day at the ski ticket window, I have been much more conscious of speaking the truth, even if I fear the retributions…and even if it costs me a little extra money.  As a side note, I’ve also taken some time to brush up on my math skills, just in case I stumble along my walk towards integrity again in the future.

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.”  — Dwight D. Eisenhower