Look for 3 things in a person – intelligence, energy and integrity. If they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.

 Warren Buffet

It is not an attribute

No-one is God, but God. We are all human and as such equally fallible and temporal. And yet, we want to be more than that. We want to be whole, not broken. We want to be at peace with ourselves, not in conflict. Nothing is more hurtful and unacceptable than to be accused: you don’t have any integrity! It is to say ‘you are nothing!’. We therefor hold on – for dear life – to our belief that we have integrity. But therein also lies our challenge, because integrity is not an attribute we might feel we possess and only have to hold on to, but an ideal and intrinsic need in all of us. The Latin word ‘integer’ refers to ‘whole’. Integrity is better understood as work we need to do on ourselves to be more whole, work that never gets completed and needs to be done daily.

Don’t shoot the messenger

When we look at ourselves we look through the lenses of our beliefs first, then what we value, then our attitude towards life and others, and lastly our behaviours. When we look at others, it’s the reverse: we see their behaviours first, then attitude, then values and lastly we might learn something about their beliefs. When we assess or judge integrity, we look for congruence: Is it a person who walks the talk? In other words, we judge from a person’s behaviours or actions to see if they are in line with what the person expresses as his or her beliefs and values. If there is a disconnect, such a person lacks integrity in our eyes.

We ourselves might not be the best judge of our own integrity since we tend to relativise our behaviours. Our challenge is to sharpen our conscience and self-awareness, but also to recognise important messages that can help us with our daily work on integrity. And we will only do so if we are willing to lower our defenses and become vulnerable for the sake of growing our integrity.    Ultimately, all our efforts to be a person of influence and to be respected, stand or fall by our integrity and the resulting credibility we have.

Leadership and integrity

It is a matter of fact that people who are in positions of leadership can do much more harm than those who are not. They, therefor, carry even more responsibility to act with integrity and by doing so build trust. Wise leaders will make sure that they don’t fall into the trap of surrounding themselves with yes-men. Wise leaders will welcome criticism and encourage their teams to challenge them as leaders on what is ethical and consistent with what they ‘preach’. Wise leaders will set the rule for themselves to consult, particularly when in doubt. Wise leaders will know that character comes before competence and charisma. Wise leaders will know that admission of guilt and asking forgiveness soon after an indiscretion, can repair trust and will prevent conspiracies and total breakdown of trust.

Lastly, but not the least important, the more we seek the truth as people of integrity would, the more we will know that a spirit of forgiveness is needed every step of the way – both towards ourselves and towards others. Life and the situations we face are complex. What can look obviously wrong with hindsight or from the outside, can look acceptable in the moment and from the inside.

Truth never damages a cause that is just.

 Mahatma Gandhi

Author : Dr Gerhard van Rensburg