Countering the World’s ‘Integrity Crisis’ with ‘Integrity Intelligence’
In a PACEsetters’ survey of over 200 professionals from various companies across a broad spectrum, from around the world, this simple question was posed: “Has integrity stayed the same, increased, or decreased over the past ten years?” Over 80% in this group answered that integrity has “decreased.” Time and again we find that the general consensus believes society’s character and integrity are waning in favor of expediency.
We only have to look at daily news headlines to see how integrity, once applauded and highly valued, has become degraded and devalued at an alarming rate. Compromises in character and integrity have become more commonplace; causing many to expect it, if not accept it. We appear to be on a slippery slope that is steadily leading to a cultural shift in values. This alarming trend begs more questions as to why and how this happened – and is there a solution to the world’s “crisis of integrity?”
Almost everyone in our PACEsetters’ surveyed group agreed that integrity is a personal choice, an unyielding commitment to demonstrate moral and ethical principles. Most of us can agree that these virtues serve the common good of society. However, when evaluating integrity overall, an essential factor seems to be lacking. That internal drive that guides persons towards making moral and ethical choices has become less focused on social influences, and more on selfish rewards.
Maybe that’s because most of our responses are largely visceral and often predetermined by our behavioral and personality types, in combination with our life experiences. Our character, on the other hand, is largely shaped by our family, our teachers, our culture, our spiritual mentors, and the context of history in which we live. When these powerful influences turn negative, we need to offset them to choose a path that will ultimately lead to the common good. In essence, we need to take the “antidote” to selfishness.
This antidote is comprised of several essential character traits that nurture integrity – empathy/ transparency/ honesty/ faith/ compassion/ fairness/ self-control/ honor. Factors such as fear, insecurity, unbridled ambition, workaholism, anger, lack of spirituality, and ignorance can change people’s personalities and the values by which they live; distorting reality and ultimately leading to the tragic loss of both personal and professional integrity.
To raise the level of one’s integrity, a person must consistently monitor his or her honesty by assessing the key character traits necessary to make sure that one’s personal and professional choices demonstrate integrity. In the course of our research, the following traits were deemed most important in developing integrity. Those that practice these “Laws of Integrity” exhibit a high degree of what we now term, “Integrity Intelligence” (II):
- Tell the truth ALL of the time – no ‘white lies,’ no fudging the truth to appease someone, by saying something like, “you’re doing a great job,” when you really don’t believe so. That doesn’t mean offending someone with the truth, it just means being truthful in everything (in a tactful and caring way). High II people are first and foremost, truth-seekers and truth-tellers.
- When you say “yes” or commit to something, do it. As an example, the other day someone told me he would call me back the next day. He did not, so that counts as a lie from someone exhibiting low II.
- Do not allow your self esteem to rise and fall with the opinion of others. An insecure person will be swayed by every change in public opinion. Persons with low self-esteem tend to exhibit low integrity (low II).
- Do not mislead someone by agreeing to do something that is not realistic or within your control, like saying you will change a situation when someone else controls the outcome. High II people understand their limits of control.
- Persons with high II avoid gossip like the plague, by communicating any sensitive or potentially negative information first with the individual directly affected by this information, without needing to share it with others. The only exception would be if the information sharer feels threatened, in which case he/she would share this information with a position directly responsible for the matter (e.g., a supervisor). There’s an old adage that supports this type of communication: “Don’t say anything about a person that you would not be comfortable sharing face to face with that person.”
- Set realistic expectations, by trying to under promise and over deliver. For example, a potential customer shouldn’t lead-on a sales person by saying “I’ll think about it” when that customer has no intention of buying the sales person’s service or product. High II persons establish expectations upfront.
- Demonstrate empathy by placing yourself in the other person’s position, especially when you dislike that person. Ask yourself what caused that person to behave the way he/she did? And, how would you react if you were in that person’s ‘skin?’ Persons with high empathy skills tend to also have II.
- Don’t hide things. Especially if you’re keeping unnecessary secrets, like being silent about a piece of information because you want a ‘leg-up’ or advantage over someone. A person with a high level of II builds collaboration, not silos.
- Be kind and considerate to everyone in your family, workplace, and wherever you go (like store clerks, service attendants, reservationists, etc.). Treat everyone with the same respect, irrespective of position or influence. People with low II tend to display false flattery and readily dismiss those deemed “insignificant.”
- Instead of being judgmental, try leading with understanding, like considering why someone acted badly (maybe he/she received some tragic news or that person was just having a bad day). Try also to objectively consider alternative viewpoints. High II persons have low confirmation bias.
- On a scale of one to five, rate your level of fairness in each situation. Were you unprejudiced and even-handed? Do this routinely and you will change poor habits of unfairness and increase your II.
- Ask others for feedback, and thank them for candid evaluations, because sometimes other people will let you know that something you did, or are about to do, is not right – thus aiding your personal growth. Accountability groups increase II.
- Do not make too many compromises. Remain open to new ways of doing something, but without trying to please everyone. Low II people tend to be ‘people pleasers.’
- For any problem, share your responsibility when appropriate, and confess your mistakes. Transparency builds trust and II.
- Learn how to be assertive so that you can defend an ethical position from a point of conviction, without becoming hostile or aggressive. High II practitioners use “tactful assertiveness.”
- Surround yourself with people of high integrity (II), and they will uplift you and support you in your quest for personal improvement.
- Do not obsess over minor details, and do not create unnecessary deadlines, especially those that are not realistic. We tend to view high II persons as ‘real,’ open-minded, and adaptable.
- Resist the temptation to do something purely for your own interest, without considering the implications on others. An ‘others-focus’ increases II.
- Know the difference between humor and hostility by discerning whether a joke makes light of a situation or is attacking the character of someone – the former is fine; the latter is unacceptable. High II people tend to use more self-deprecating type humor.
- Resist being tempted by the need for positive reinforcement or rewards that exclude others. High II persons consider helping others as a reward in itself.
- Avoid seeming cocky when acting with integrity, by remaining humble and trying to protect others’ reputations as well as your own reputation. Humility is one of the most observed characteristics of high II persons.
- Keep the rules set by society and your employer, unless these rules violate your moral conscious (e.g., discrimination, harassment, cheating). When rules violate morality, be open and willing to endure the consequences of being a contrarian or whistleblower. High II people like Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa broke through social barriers with II.
It’s critical that we withstand the pressures that can compromise our integrity by consistently practicing these traits that increase Integrity Intelligence. Just saying “I’m going to do these things” probably won’t suffice. Normal situations don’t really test our integrity. Crises do. But when a crisis comes, it’s often too late to fix what’s wrong. Too often the damage happens before we can react. So the solution is prepare yourself in advance of the crisis, by establishing your moral absolutes (e.g., values) that must remain immutable.
As the world becomes more relativistic, it also becomes more difficult to maintain personal integrity. Ethical truths in a relativistic world depend on circumstances, and if your values are continually changing in response to events, there can be no personal integrity. That’s why personal integrity seems to be disappearing in our world.
Try asking yourself these three questions to clarify your values:
- Are you certain something is true and not just a fabrication of your confirmation bias?
- Is what you are doing essential in producing a positive outcome, or is it just to make yourself look better?
- Is the way you are treating people kind and considerate rather than discourteous and unfeeling?
Ideally, your behavior and thinking will reflect all three of these test filters. At times, in order to protect your personal integrity, you may feel it necessary to say or do something that you know to be true, but it doesn’t seem very kind. In these situations, it’s usually best to examine your intent – is it coming from a place of genuine caring or a desire for the greater good? And if you do decide to express your sentiment, do it with a caring attitude with respect for the other person’s situation, and in consideration of their point of view.
When we live with integrity, we respect our self and others equally, by living in a manner which is consistent with our values, purpose and mission. These factors should govern each decision that we make, thus making success a shared outcome with others.
Unlike natural intelligence, Integrity Intelligence must be kept continuously top-of-mind, less we fall into the temptation of compromise. By always focusing on developing relationships built on mutual trust and respect, we all win. Living with integrity brings clarity and peace to our lives, allowing us to make clear decisions, and ensuring that only what matters most gets done. When we live with integrity, there is a looping process of success that says: “I am at peace with myself and others.” And we call that – living with integrity!