Never lose your integrity – it’s core to who you are

The saying goes that it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and seconds to destroy it.   The foundation stone of your reputation is integrity.

A person with integrity lives their life according to moral and ethical principles.  At a practical level, your integrity is about what you say and do every day, the decisions you make and how you treat people.

People bristle when they hear that ‘their integrity has been called into question’.  For most people, their integrity is valued, and not something they would want to lose.

However, your integrity can become tarnished and eroded slowly, over time, if you’re not careful.

Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioural economics, talks about the fact that everyone lies a little bit.

“We like to believe that a few bad apples spoil the virtuous bunch. But research shows that everyone cheats a little—right up to the point where they lose their sense of integrity”, Dan said.

This is because we often make decisions unconsciously and are not aware of the biases built into the decision making process.  The environment or culture in which we live and work, plays a big part in the nature and scale of those biases.


An organisational culture that tolerates or encourages behaviour that is dodgy, can see people behave in ways that is out of character.  Behaviour that they wouldn’t consider appropriate or ethical is adopted as they become ‘culturalised’ to the accepted way of behaving in that environment.

As a change leader, how are you showing up every day?  Are you acting with integrity? Is your behaviour congruent with your espoused ethical values?  If it’s inconsistent, you will be sending mixed messages to your team, and your integrity will be at risk.

Maintaining integrity encompasses two core attributes: having courage, and also being conscious of the environment or situation you are in. 

Both attributes have a range.  For courage, you can think about it in terms of ‘absent’ at one end and ‘present’ at the other end.  Whilst your consciousness is either ‘active’ or ‘passive’.  How each attribute is activated will have consequences (either positive or negative) for your integrity.

History is littered with examples of people who were blind to the environment they worked in and the dangers it posed, and didn’t have the courage to protect their integrity.   In the end, they become captured by the situation and their integrity was sold.  The prime example was Enron.  Thousands of words have been written about the culture at Enron and the following impact it had on the behaviour of people who worked there, and their pursuit of profit at all costs mentality.

At the other end of the spectrum, are people who are conscious of their environment, and have the courage to remain centred and true to their principles.  I’ve worked with leaders like this, who operate with integrity and good intent.  This creates space and support for the team to be the best they can be.

Of course, life is sometimes not so clear cut and there are always shades of grey, creating confusion and sometimes conflicted thoughts as to the best approach to take.

I remember from an early age being told, that if you are ever confused just use the newspaper test as a way of reflecting.  Ask yourself: What would happen if your family or friends read about what you have done?  How would you feel?  Knowing that your decision or action could become public often helps ensure you are making a good decision.

Alternatively, ask yourself the question that Benjamin Franklin asked himself everyday: “What good shall I do today?” and his evening question – “What good have I done today?”.

What would your answer be?

Remember, change happens.  So make it work for you.

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