The Meaning of Integrity
We hear a lot about integrity these days. When the big scandals of Enron and Worldcom hit the headlines, many people blamed integrity – or rather the lack of it – for the dishonest actions of those companies’ leaders.
The online dictionary Wikipedia says that integrity “comprises the personal inner sense of wholeness deriving from honesty and consistent uprightness of character.”
That definition comes from the etymological origins of the word “integrity”. Integrity derives from “integer”, the Latin word for “whole”. In other words, people who have integrity behave in ways that are consistent with their stated beliefs and values. They act as one.
Here are some other ways of understanding what this means.
1. Integrity is being seamlessly whole.
2. Integrity is being whole not fractional.
3. Integrity is taking everything – and everyone – as a whole, not dividing things as “yours” and “mine”, home and work, my idea and your idea, what I want and what you want.
4. Integrity is the avoidance of deception and expediency.
5. Integrity is being the same person to everyone, whoever they are.
6. Integrity is adherence to one’s convictions.
7. Integrity is maintaining values steadfastly and focusing on what you believe is right.
8. Integrity is doing what you say you’re going to do; keeping your promises; being a person of your word.
9. Integrity is not talking about diversity in the company’s press and having barriers to entry for certain people; not saying you believe in your people as your greatest asset and refusing some people opportunities for advancement.
So much for corporate integrity. What about personal integrity?
Back to Wikipedia again, where we read that the word “integrity” popularly refers to a refusal to engage in lying, blaming or other behaviour aimed at avoiding accountability.
Lynda Gratton and a research team at the London Business School found that most employees believe that their leaders should have personal integrity. She quotes Hewlett Packard where 80% of staff believe that their leaders have personal integrity. She notes that, since 1992, the turnover and profitability of HP has risen by 20% a year without any increase in the workforce.
Let’s finish with an anecdote that sums up integrity. It’s about the racquetball player Reuben Gonzolas.
Gonzolas was in the final match of his first professional tournament. He was playing the reigning champion and was in the fifth and final game at match point. Gonzolas made a super killer shot into the front corner of the court. The referee and one of the linesmen called it good, but Gonzolas said No, his shot had skipped the wall and hit the floor first.
As a result, the serve went to his opponent who went on to win the match.
Such is the win-lose mentality of professional sport that a great debate ensued. When finally cornered by the press pack, Gonzolas was asked why he threw away victory when it was within his grasp.
To which the unperturbed Gonzolas replied: “It was the only thing I could do to maintain my integrity.”