Integrity: Four Myths

There is a lot of talk these days about integrity (or the lack of it.) We can all cite examples in business, politics, or other spheres where leaders lack integrity. And most of us agree that a successful leader must, among other things, be a person of integrity.

But there are a lot of misconceptions and myths about integrity. Here are four:

Myth #1 – Integrity is strictly about high morals and good behavior.

Yes, integrity is about honesty, morality, and doing the right thing. But it’s more than that. It involves wholeness, unity, internal consistency, and lack of corruption. (See the Oxford Dictionary.) Someone with integrity is ‘integrated.’ They:

  • Walk the talk consistently across roles. There is not a ‘disconnect’ between what people of integrity say and what they do across the different arenas of life. E.g., Juan is a faithful dad, faithful husband, faithful boss, faithful friend, faithful little league coach,…you get the picture. If we tell ourselves that our behavior at work is separate from and irrelevant to our behavior at home (or vice versa), that is bogus and dangerous thinking.
  • Connect and integrate thinking and emotions.  Integrity requires emotional and social intelligence.  E.g., when someone is angry at work, she acknowledges it, seeks to understand what it’s about, and then manages it internally and relationally in a way that is emotionally real and also consistent with her values. She won’t ignore it, but she won’t handle it in a way she will later regret, either.

Myth #2 – Integrity is about being perfect.

Yes, we need to set the bar high – for ourselves and others. But none of us is perfect, and, if we claim to be, then we lack integrity. Integrity involves humbly offering and accepting forgiveness in failure. It means taking ownership and apologizing when we mess up, and it means sharing credit in success. People of integrity are humble, trustworthy, and, as author and consultant Dr. Henry Cloud says, courageous enough to face the demands of reality.

Myth #3 – Integrity is really only important for leaders.

A wise teacher once said, “He who is faithful with little will also be faithful with much.” Strengthening integrity is important for anyone who wants influence, a clear conscience, and effective relationships – whether in the school room, the family room, the break room, or the boardroom. Practicing integrity in the small things is training for the big things.

Myth #4 – Integrity is about me.

The person of integrity not only considers her own interests and well-being; this person genuinely cares about others and considers the impact of her actions on others. Author and consultant Justin Menkes believes (and I agree) that narcissism is a huge problem for leaders and one that will eventually derail them.

Like just about anything worth pursuing, strengthening integrity requires commitment, focus, effort, and help. A good place to start is to ask others who will shoot straight: “do people really trust me?” and “what can I do (or not do) that would help me demonstrate stronger integrity?”

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults who loves to coach leaders in strengthening their integrity and impact. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.

Image courtesy of From the Pews.