3 Hard Truths Concerning Integrity

An impeccably dressed Englishman was standing in line at an airline reservations counter when a pushy woman cut in front of him, slapped down her ticket, and demanded an upgrade to first class.

“Madam,” the Englishman said as he picked up the ticket and pressed it back in her hand, “First Class is not a boarding pass. It is a way of life.”


And while I may be able to buy my way into a seat on a plane and enjoy the benefits of first class, I cannot expect to buy my way into a life of Integrity.

To understand this, I need to look at the word Integrity…. that is, define the word.

By definition:

Integrity – 1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. 2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished 3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition.

With this understanding, I can now look at three hard truths around Integrity. There are more. And these are the three I believe can most quickly sabotage my integrity and keep me from being a person of integrity.

As always, I am open to being wrong on these and I am constantly scaling this mountain called integrity fully aware that it is “a mountain with no top” and thus, a never ending climb.

And like any great climb, the air gets thinner, the view gets better and the crowds disappear.

One more thing…

These truths are but a glimpse into the depth and height and width of integrity.

These truths are but one frame in a feature length film of integrity. My work with my clients (and my work with my own coach) is nothing if not about the full scope of integrity.

As I said, this is a mountain with no top and if I am to create a significant life for myself, it is a climb I must not only climb but a climb I must embrace and enjoy.

With that said, allow me to share three of the hard truths concerning integrity I am learning…

Hard Truth #1 – Integrity Requires the Courage to Say “NO”… often.

To be in integrity… that is to keep and honor my word… I must have the courage to say “no” to many, many things.

And here’s why…

If I am going to keep my word… really keep my word… as in: do what I say I am going to do, when I say I am going to do it, and to do it as well as I know it should be done…. well… if I am going to keep THAT word… if THAT is the level of integrity I’m talking about (and it is) then I must say no to anything I know I will not be able to fulfill on in that manner.

Let me give you an example…

When I am in a conversation with some one I might promise… that is give my word… that I will do such and such. I do this with 100% honest and sincere intention of doing that thing. It is a good thing. It’s of value to the person I am talking to… and yet it is easy to not even realize – in the moment – that I’ve just given someone my word.

You see…

a crucial part of being in integrity is being awake enough to hear myself when I give my word.

And if I am going to give and keep my word, then I must know what keeping my word entails. I must slow down and fully understand what it is I am committing myself to in that moment.

So, one way I say “no” is to not say anything at all that could be received by the person I am with as an expectation of my word.

I do not casually and unthinkingly reply, “sure I’ll send that over.”

And if I do give my word like that I must realize that I may need to immediately write down what I said I would do so that I can be reminded of the word I gave AFTER it is done coming out of my mouth.

Here’s the thing…

When I am fully aware of the necessary required actions… the follow-up… required to keep my word THEN I will see the importance of saying no to many, many things.

Hard Truth #2 – Integrity Requires That When I Do NOT KEEP My Word… I DO always HONOR My Word.

This may seem to contradict Hard Truth #1 and I don’t believe it does.

To keep one’s word is briefly described in Truth #1. And yet there are times when I am simply not able… it is not possible… I underestimate what is required… to KEEP my word.

OR, I choose to not keep my word.

In that moment of realization I have a beautiful opportunity to HONOR my word even though I cannot (or even choose not) to KEEP my word.

To HONOR my word means that the moment that I will not be keeping my word for any reason and in any way I must immediately let everyone who will be impacted by me not keeping my word know three things:

  1. that I will not be keeping my word.
  2. that I will keep my word in the future and let them know exactly what that looks like including when I will keep my word OR that I will not be keeping my word at all.
  3. what I will do to deal with..aka, clean up the mess… of me not keeping my word, including the mess of me not keeping my word on time.

Why is this so important?

Because it is guaranteed that at some point I will not be able to keep my word. Period.

AND.. there will be times that I choose to not keep my word.

And to refuse to acknowledge that possibility up front with myself is to immediately be out of integrity and to sweep the failure to keep my word under the rug. And by so doing, I dis-honor my word in addition to not keeping my word.

Hard Truth #3 – Integrity Is NOT Merely a Virtue. Integrity Is a Way of BEing. My Word. I Am Who I Am Because of My Word.

I am nothing if I am not my word and I am always my word — for better or worse.

Everything I am is the result of the words I speak… the promises I’ve made and broken.

I used to see Integrity as a virtue… a nice to have… a tool to get through life more effectively.

The problem with this view of integrity is that it becomes disposable.

When it becomes easier to accomplish a task without integrity, then integrity can be put on the shelf in order to achieve said result.

It is this integrity as a virtue… integrity as a mission statement… integrity as a plaque on the wall… that is, integrity that is NOT who I AM ( and I do NOT mean based on who I am, I mean my word not being who I am) it is this form of integrity as a virtue that allows me to “bend” the rules… to not go all in and deliver on my word the way I KNOW it should be delivered.

Integrity as a virtue is disposable.

In other words, when the doing is more important then the being, integrity is often the sacrificial lamb on the altar of doing the work.

Integrity as my word… that is, as who I AM… means that to dispose of integrity is to dispose of myself.

It’s easy to see that if I dispose of myself very often then I am likely to not see myself very powerfully… and in fact am likely to not like myself at all.

And that, dear reader, is a very dark place to be.

[Deeeeeeeeep Breath….]

Ok… so you may have noticed that I wrote that entire post up to this point from my perspective… in the first person.

Usually, dear reader, I like to talk to you.

In this case, because this is such a crucial post, I did not want anything to come between us as I shared these hard truths with you. And it occurred to me that writing about “your integrity” and “your word” could be very off-putting.

Still, I have to ask… are you seeing this for yourself?

Are you seeing the possibility and the responsibility of living as integrity… living as your word?

I hope so.

And I will freely admit that I didn’t “get” this until recently and, I am still getting it.

You see, I thought I knew what integrity was and yet until my coach pointed it out to me I had no idea the depth and width of integrity… and how out of integrity I was — and to be clear, in some area I am ALWAYS out of integrity.

Now that may seem like a bad thing for me to acknowledge that I am out of integrity in an area. The fact is, believing I am not out of integrity is a sure sign that I AM out of integrity in some area.

So, as I mentioned at the top of this post, this is but one frame in a feature length film on integrity… a mountain with no top… an ever expanding universe to explore… quite possibly the ultimate “final frontier” for us to explore.

For if we can begin to “get” integrity as our word, then the power, peace and possibility available to us is… well.. it’s just something you have to experience to believe.

In your corner,




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