4 Ways to Increase your Integrity

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I tried to lie once.

It was winter in Colorado, when outdoor fun is a way of life as the snow envelopes the mountains. Funds were tight but I’d determined to take my three small children skiing. I’d collected ski gear at various thrift stores and concluded I could offer them this amazing experience on a frugal budget. Bundled up in their mix-and-match ski wear, they could hardly contain their excitement as we headed out of the city on our adventure.

I waited in line at the ticket window to purchase our lift tickets and noticed a sign that read “Children under the age of 5 ski free”.  Free–that word caught my attention like the burst of icy wind that hit our faces at 9,000 feet elevation. My older two were well over that age — but my youngest had just turned six years old a couple of weeks ago.  Immediately my brain went into scheming mode.  “I could tell them she’s five.  She just turned six, so it won’t matter. She’s small for her age anyway…I could get away with this — and save $55!”  So, when my turn came up, I asked for our three tickets and, patting my little one on the head, said “This one’s free.”  The attendant smugly looked at me and asked, “What’s her birth date?”  I flushed and panicked.  Do I add a year or take away one to her actual birth year? Subtract, yes. I quickly blurted out an answer and he grinned smugly, and said, “Yeah…that would make her seven.”

I was caught red-handed.  I paid the full price for her and walked away in embarrassment, not wanting to make eye contact with my three children looking at me with their innocent eyes wondering why mom had flat-out lied. How do you explain to kids that I was trying to get around the system? That I wanted to bend the rules for my benefit? That I wanted to pay less that others needed to pay by not telling the truth?  I avoided the situation and distracted them by heading to the ski lift lines.  Later that day, caught up in my guilt, I decided that lying about her age just wasn’t worth it.

It’s a silly story, I know, but one that made an impact on me.  It is so easy to be dishonest in the little things.  It’s not a big deal, right?  Or is it?

Integrity is the ability to maintain high standards of honesty and ethics at all times, even when no one else is watching. Those who have high integrity do what is right, even if it’s not personally rewarding.  They build trust in others through their reliability.  They are authentic.  They’re not afraid to admit their mistakes and confront unethical actions of others. They can take the ethical stance despite its unpopularity. They keep their word, give accurate reports, and treat all people with the same level of respect.

Think of the people in your life — how many of them can you say live in integrity in their personal lives? It’s a tall order to fill and not many are able to pull it off. Far too often, their own self-interests take precedence over doing what is right…especially if they think no one is watching.

The workplace is susceptible to a lack of integrity as well.  How many coworkers have you heard make it sound like they did most of the work on a project when you know you did?  Or fudge just a bit on recording work hours? Or spend a little too much time on social media during work time? How does that make you feel when you are working hard?  And we all love those who brag to a coworker about their depth of connection with the boss, when we know it’s just not true, right? Those who are dishonest in the little things can be annoying.  But are there greater consequences?

A study done in 2000 titled Human Communication Research (Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine, Franklin J. Boster), showed that:

1-The average person tells 1.65 lies a day. Sounds low? It’s possible some participants lied about the extent of their lies!

2-40.1% admitted to telling a lie in the past 24 hours

3-22.7% of the lies told were committed by one percent of participants

Do these figures surprise you? If you asked yourself how many times you stretch the truth in a day, and in the last 24 hours, how would you answer?

Those who are low in integrity tend to be impulsive, thinking only of the ‘now’ vs. long-term outcomes.  Most often they haven’t taken the time to sort out what their belief systems are and what values they hold as important. Those with low integrity tend to show little independent thought and are easily influenced by others, often caving to peer pressure.

“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

If we continually act with our own interests in mind, especially if our choices are wrong, others will not be able to trust us.  And trust is key to effective leadership.  In an article by Michael Ray Hopkin in 2012, he says:  To succeed as a manager you must live with integrity. It’s crucial for managers to build trust with the teams they work with and depend on. Trust grows through meaningful interaction with your teams and consistent application of proven principles. Developing trust and leading with integrity will increase the confidence others have in your work. When engineers, salespeople, marketers and others have confidence in their product managers, they will do amazing work. (https://leadonpurposeblog.com/2012/01/21/leadership-and-integrity/)

But living without integrity can also harm ourselves. You know how it works.  You lie, then need to cover up the lie, then need to make sure you tell the story the same way if it ever resurfaces, all the time worrying if you will be found out.  The stress and angst that comes from covering up the truth can be agonizing, and keep you up at night, eroding self-confidence and assurance.

“The truly scary thing about undiscovered lies is that they have a greater capacity to diminish us than exposed ones. They erode our strength, our self-esteem, our very foundation.” –Cheryl Hughes

Those who aren’t able to act with integrity need not be stereotyped as a “bad”. Integrity is a competency of emotional intelligence and is a behavior which can be learned. Consider completing an integrity inventory, to see how you’re doing (Contact us for a free inventory). If you would like to grow in integrity, consider engaging a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you to help you  begin to make behavior shifts.   In the meantime, try  these developmental tips:

  • Establish a clear picture of what your values are.  Know what you stand for — what you believe, what you’d fight for, what will stand the test of time.  Jot down fifteen values that are most important to you and prioritize them. Post these somewhere where you’ll see them often.
  • Ask yourself this question: Is my behavior consistent with these values?  Going back to your list, circle the ones that you’ve lived out this week. Journal about the circumstances in which you acted according to your values- and notice the situations where you tend to shy away from your values.  Is there a pattern?
  • Consider the consequences of living in dishonesty. What effects does your lack of integrity have on your mental well-being?  on your physical well-being?  on others?
  • Envision what your life would look like if you incorporated more integrity. What specific circumstances would be affected and how?

“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.” –Barbara De Angelis

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