Exploring Integrity in Business - Part 1


I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago saying that managing strong collaborative business relationships requires 4 key things, and that the first of those is Integrity.

That got me thinking about what I really mean by Integrity, and why it is important.

The Oxford Modern English Dictionary defines it as:

"Integrity, noun. 1. moral uprightness; honesty. 2. wholeness; soundness"

Both these definitions are relevant in a business context, though I consider the second  meaning to be the starting point, because it underlies and gives shape to the first. You could say that without wholeness and soundness, there is no foundation for moral uprightness.

Let me explain what I mean:

In my view, for a person to be in integrity (i.e whole & sound), then their thinking, speaking and actions must all be aligned.

So let's look at each part individually:

1. Thinking

Is made up of:

  • Beliefs - which are built upon your underlying view of the world and the way that you believe it is, or should be. (Important note: Beliefs are not necessarily true beyond the individual who holds them; after all almost every war in history started because of differences in belief - and both sides believed they were right.)
  • Values - the important and deeply held principles which are derived from beliefs and which, to a great extent, define who we are.
  • Purpose - what one wants to cause or achieve in the world - our reasons for doing what we're doing.

Although I am describing these elements in relationship to an individual, this applies equally to organisations. The only difference is that organisational beliefs, values and purpose arise by amalgamating individual ones, and the number of individual views involved in defining organisational "thinking" can range from one to thousands.

So, using myself as an example, I believe that in business people should behave with openness, honesty, and respect. I also believe, as my recent blog series said, that people want to do the best job that they can, can be trusted to do it, and that individuals and organisations work best when they work together, rather than against each other.

Built on those beliefs, it's really no great surprise to find that some of my most important personal, and business, values are Openness, Trust, Opportunity and Partnership.

And  my purpose, and that of my business, is to help others perform at their best, whilst remaining true to their beliefs, values and purpose.


2. Speaking

This part (at least in theory) is pretty easy - To align your speaking, just be certain that what you say derives from your beliefs, values and purpose.

Of course, everybody has to make compromises sometimes, but to maintain integrity, it's critical to be honest (not just with others but, more importantly, with yourself) about the reasons for the compromise, and clear that it is created within a commitment to fulfil on the purpose.

Politicians could really learn something from this, as they have a strong tendency to fail to acknowledge their compromises or, worse, pretend they don't exist. Further, far too often they fail to make explicit why and how that compromise has been made in pursuit of the ultimate purpose.


3. And finally, Actions:

This is the part that many people and organisations find difficult to maintain.

You can be clear about your beliefs, values and purpose; you can take care to ensure that you what you say is consistent with what you think; and then real life hits, and all your best intentions to do what you say come unstuck.

Rather than explaining what I mean, the most effective thing is for you to take a few moments to think of examples from your own life. I'm sure you have plenty, I know I do.

Think about some of those times where you've failed to do what you said you would, and the excuses you used to justify that to yourself and others.

Think also about the cost and impact of that lack of alignment - both on those around you and yourself. And remember, even if you don't get "caught" you still know, so there is still a cost, even if it is "only" an emotional one.


That at least starts to scratch the surface of the Whole and Sound aspect of Integrity. Nothing I have said so far actually requires Moral Uprightness. In the next post I'll begin to explore how that fits into the picture.


This is the first part in a series exploring Integrity in Business.


4 Responses to What is Integrity?

  1. Jason Thorne says:

    Good one. Integrity may be at the heart of everyone’s best intensions – and then life comes along and upsets the balance. I think one can be regarded as having integrity if they remain believable. But bear in the mind the one deciding if you have integrity may have had their own integrity compromised and are therefore no longer believable themselves.

  2. beingbuilder aka Nathan says:

    Integrity is… if you’re a pirate you have to have a parrot on your shoulder and fight to rule the seas!

    I posted this in response to doug’s tweet without reading the blog… now having read the blog I have realised I have missed out the speaking, here goes.

    ‘Aaarrrggghhh me hearties, hand over the booty to the Cap’n or walk the plank?’

  3. Enda Larkin says:

    Great post Doug…and it’s definitely in the ‘actions’ where the potential to fall down is greatest. Good luck with the blog.

  4. Integrity….now there is a powerful word! Every biz claims to act with Integrity and for many it is a big old comfort blanket! But do people really understand what it stands for? Doug is on the right track with definition 2 eg wholeness. INTEGER is a Latin word meaning Whole, Total , Complete (remember your Maths at school?). Classical writers used the noun INTEGRITAS (Integrity) to indicate the SUM total of ALL the Moral Values or Virtues identified by Aristotle in particular. These include the 4 Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Courage and Justice PLUS the 3 Spiritual Values of Faith(Trust), Hope (Belief) and Charity (LOVE) with Humility, Excellence and Respect making 10 Core Values in all. So now you have a checklist (and this could be extended I agree) to measure whether you are truly acting with Integrity. The next step is to ask what behaviours you would expect to see from living out each of these 10 Values. Organisations might like to produce their own Charter of Integrity for example.
    If you want to explore this subject further take the ethicability(R) Moral DNA test and you will get a FREE 4 Page Report on your own Moral Values and how these relate to 3 key Moral Consciences. Go to http://www.ethicabiltytest.org – it will take you around 10-12 mins! Doug is 100% right that all organisations need to focus foremost on Building a Culture of Integrity based on proper Values from which sustainable VALUE will flow for all the stakeholders. Happy to engage in further debate on this crucial topic. Call me on 07711 908920, please! Peter Neville Lewis – Principled Consulting

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