Is Integrity on the Road to Extinction?

Is Integrity on the Road to Extinction?

It would be easy to think that integrity is dead or dying. Invasions of democratic countries, and scandals either corporate, political, religious or sports have rocked the world. Added to these are terrorist attacks, office politics, fake news, and broken promises, which have created a perception of low integrity in our everyday lives. Even the Royal family is not immune.

I believe, perhaps naively, that most people aspire to have integrity (as they define it). However, there are those that abuse their position, are greedy for wealth, power, or territory, or know no different. Many companies have integrity as one of their values, but do they live by them?

“You cannot put integrity on your business card unless you have earned it”

Robert Swan, Polar Explorer

Flagrant breaking of rules, lying, and misconduct seem to have become the norm in some of our leaders. We don’t even call it lying. You hear someone has ‘fibbed’, is ‘being economical with the truth’ or ‘unintentionally misled’. Surely a lie is a lie?

No matter what you say or how you say it, if your subsequent actions do not match your words, you will not be believed, and your integrity, trust, and credibility are shot.  It is important to be true to yourself and your values, because in that lies integrity.

Defining Integrity

If you were to ask each member of your team what integrity means to them, I wonder how many different answers you would get. Certainly delegates on our courses come up with a variety of definitions. 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles that you refuse to change’.

Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People takes a different approach, which is condensed here. 

  • Personal integrity generates trust – Lack of integrity will undermine every other effort to build relationships.
  • Honesty is telling the truth – conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words.
  • Being loyal to those who are not present thereby building the trust of those who are. By never saying anything about someone that you would not say if they were in the room.
  • Treat everyone by the same set of principles. Be fair and consistent.
  • Take on honest confrontational experiences with courage.
  • Being open, honest, and kind –The intent cannot be to deceive.
  • How you treat the one reveals how you regard the ninety-nine, because everyone is ultimately the one.

A company definition I like is John Deere’s “Integrity means telling the truth, keeping our word, and treating others with fairness and respect. It is demonstrated through honest relationships, decisions that consider the balanced interests of stakeholders, and unquestioned commitment to ethical and legal behaviour. Integrity is one of our most cherished assets. It must not be compromised.”

Integrity and Trust

As we can see from above, the impact of integrity is on trust, credibility and relationship building.  Trust is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organisation, and nation throughout the world. If developed and used, it has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. It is the glue that holds us together.

“You know it when you feel it”

Jack Welch, Former CEO of General Electric

Stephen M.R. Covey, in The Speed of Trust states that the number one job of any leader is to inspire trust. It releases the creativity and capacity of individuals to give their best and a high trust environment in which they can work effectively with others. You can establish, grow, extend, and restore trust with your teams.

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.

Trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create or destroy. Yet it is the least understood, most neglected, and most underestimated possibility of our time. It is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t. Like Humpty Dumpty on the wall, once it falls and breaks, it is very hard to put back together again. In our modern age of multiple information sources, the ability to rapidly spread misinformation and destroy trust has never been greater.

“The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

Senator Hiram Johnson 

When you trust people, you have confidence in their integrity and in their abilities. The difference between trust and distrust is dramatic in relationships. Trust is a two-way street. To earn trust, you must be trustworthy and therefore honest.


In Kouzes and Posner’s research on credibility, they interviewed thousands of employees over many years and asked them what they expected of their leaders. Every year, honesty came out as number one.

We can believe we are being honest, but are we truly? Do you tell someone when they are underperforming? How often do you hide your true feelings to avoid getting into confrontation? When asked if you are OK, do you answer ‘fine’, even when you are not? How many ‘white lies’ do you tell, which you then justify to yourself? Do you keep your promises?

What could you do to improve honesty and trust in your team?

Being True to Your Values

Values signify the principles or moral standards of a person, team, or company. It is what is valuable or important to them. They form a bond and set expectations of ways of behaving or how not to. They underlie our everyday relationships with each other. How many people know what Britain’s values are? How many of us try to live by them?

A focus on values can enrich the quality of the relationships within an organisation or team, and therefore its effectiveness. Without values, the job is likely to be done in a utilitarian way. If the company values resonate with their own core values, people will do their job because they want to, rather than having to. They create unique energy. They are not a ‘soft’ management approach, but they enable people to do the toughest of jobs fairly and with greater satisfaction.

Values do have impact and managers ignore them at their peril, as we have seen in the recent scandals about culture within the Metropolitan Police, KPMG, and some NHS Trusts.

Sadly, we are seeing too many companies paying lip service to their values. For them, when it comes down to the bottom line and shareholder returns, the end justifies the means. Profit is more important than how it is achieved. Enron’s values, for example, were Communication, Respect, Integrity, and Excellence!

Measuring Integrity

If it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed, yet we need to hold people accountable. Integrity is not easy to measure, but it can be done indirectly. One of the criteria measured in the Judgement Index is a person’s capacity for moral clarity. Those with clear strong morals can help build the right culture. It also measures assertiveness, following directions, conceptual clarity and knowing what is important, which can contribute to integrity.

Ensuring Survival

One of my husband’s favourite sayings is ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ One bite is to regularly talk about integrity and the behaviours you expect. We may not as individuals change the world, but as leaders, each one of us can role model integrity in our daily lives, teach our children and our teams it’s importance, and stand up to those who betray our trust.

Another way we can make a difference is to only invest in ethical companies which are attempting to do the right thing. Unless investors support these companies for the long term, the world will never change.

If integrity is not to disappear from our lives, each one of us can play our part to keep it alive. Please join me in this endeavour to create an environment where integrity not only survives, but thrives.


Also published on Medium.

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