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The Loss of Integrity

Raise your level of integrity.

Key points

  • Integrity is a personal choice to honor moral, ethical, spiritual, and artistic values and principles.
  • Integrity is an internal state of being as opposed to an externally imposed sense of morality.
  • Cultivating integrity is possible by asking oneself a daily series of questions designed to test key character traits.

It's upsetting each time we read about yet another prominent figure losing their integrity through lying, stealing, committing fraud, or infidelity. Why do bright and talented people such as Bernard Ebbers, Jeffrey Skilling, Andrew Fastow, Eliot Spitzer, and Tiger Woods fall from grace?

In Integrity. Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reason, I define integrity as a personal choice, an uncompromising and predictably consistent commitment to honor moral, ethical, spiritual, and artistic values and principles.

In contrast to morality and ethics which are externally-imposed values consensually acknowledged to be for the common good of society, integrity is an internal state of being that guides us towards making wise moral choices and intelligent ethical decisions. How we choose to respond in any given situation is the testing ground for integrity. That is why a psychological approach to understanding this topic is essential.

Our emotional responses are largely visceral and automatic, often predetermined by our personality types, and influenced by life experience and emotional development.

Our character, however, is shaped by familial and educational teachings, and the guidance of spiritual mentors. Philosophical, cultural, and historical influences also shape our integrity, whether we recognize this or not. Daily, we must choose whether to accept or reject these powerful influences for good or choose a path that will ultimately corrupt our best intentions.

Developmentally, there are optimal times to learn the key character traits that foster integrity — honesty/sympathy/empathy/compassion/fairness/self-control/duty. At the conclusion of my book, I made a statement that one cannot have integrity without compassion.

Compassion is definitely missing when people's poor judgment and lack of wisdom do irreparable damage to their families, their organizations, and to themselves. In future posts, we will explore why workaholism changes people's personalities and the values they live by, distorts the reality of each family member, threatens family security, often leads to family break up, and ultimately leads to the tragic loss of both personal and professional integrity.

To raise the level of your own integrity, daily ask the following questions that test the key character traits necessary to make sure that your personal and professional choices possess and demonstrate integrity.

Questions to test your integrity

Daily, monitor your honesty.

  • Did you "neglect to tell the truth" at any time today?
  • Did you say Yes when you really should have said No? This is "pleaser" behavior.
  • Had you promised to do or commit to something, and then didn't deliver?
  • Did you mislead someone by agreeing to do something in less time than is realistic?

Take your sympathy, empathy, and compassion temperature every evening:

  • Did you consider the impact of your behavior on other people before you acted?
  • How considerate and kind were you with each member of your family today?
  • Were you understanding, rather than judgmental, with a colleague or staff member?
  • Did you remember to be empathically self-nurturing, as well as nurturing of others?

Measure your level of fairness during the day:

  • Were you too critical, impatient, impulsive, or rigid in any of your interactions?
  • Were you controlling and not open to different ways of doing the same thing?
  • After listening to others' input, did you willingly share responsibility, co-operate, or delegate?
  • Did you consider the equitable, ethical, and moral implications of your choices?

Rate your self-control for that day:

  • Did you lose control by acting impulsively instead of re-scheduling problem-solving?
  • Did you create artificial or self-imposed deadlines, and then obsess over small details?
  • Did you compulsively try to finish everything before you left work?
  • Did you resist a temptation to do something unethical, or to act improperly?

See how strong your sense of duty was revealed in your behavior that day:

  • Were you consistent in honoring each personal responsibility and/or family obligation?
  • Or, did you distract yourself with business worries and the use of technology?
  • Did you do the "right thing" despite the fear of negative consequences?
  • Or, were you tempted by the promise of a reward or a need for acknowledgment?