Essence of Integrity

“Never separate the life you live from the words you speak.” ~ Paul Wellstone

Intending to write about integrity, I wanted to highlight someone as a pillar of trustworthiness; the epitome of integrity. Several people came to mind. Then, in a flash, an image of the antithesis presented. And I found myself visualizing a diminished Lance Armstrong.

Personal integrity is not subtle; there are no shades of grey. You either demonstrate it or you don’t. Although he never failed a drug test during his cycling reign, Armstrong’s legacy is now irreparably tarnished. In August he was stripped of his seven Tour de France victories and banned for life from competitive cycling. Lance didn’t mislead the world, he lied.

Warren Buffet said it best, “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.” A person’s dishonesty will eventually catch up to them. It may take years, but it’s almost certain that at some point there will be a reckoning.

Asked rhetorically: Why, in so many cases, do individuals who commit acts of dishonesty tell themselves they had a perfectly valid reason why the end result justified their lack of integrity?

Fortunately, there is a flip side. The movie Jerry Maguire exemplifies it well. In the movie, Jerry Maguire is a sports agent. He loses his high-end job as an agent to elite athletes for a memo he wrote. Jerry felt it was wrong to talk his clients into doing something that was life threatening in order for he and his company to make money. He finally grew a conscience and his new-found integrity would no longer allow it. After his memo was sent to all employees of the firm he worked with, he was fired by a friend. Jerry turned that experience around and started his own agency with a focus on personal service for elite athletes, grounded in family values and his own personal integrity.

Invariably, we take on the traits of those with whom we surround ourselves. If we surround ourselves with people who are dishonest and willing to cut corners to get ahead, then we’ll likely find ourselves following a pattern of first enduring their behavior, then accepting their behavior, and finally adopting their behavior.

If you want to build a reputation as a person of integrity, here are three actions you can take:

  1. Face the obstacles that cause you to lie or violate your moral code. This might involve finding a more suitable job, facing your fears about how others might perceive you, or admit when you make a mistake. Recover, and get back on track.
  2. Help others in need. If you are in a position to contribute to the moral development of others or help them do something they cannot accomplish on their own, offer to assist. Help others accept responsibility for delivering on their promises.
  3. Identify aspects of your behavior that require change. Reflect on your interactions with others to determine specific areas in need of improvement. For example, if you are late for work every day and feel guilty about creating excuses for this behavior, this may be an opportunity to develop greater personal integrity.

26 thoughts on “Essence of Integrity

  1. Thanks for this posting. It is very challenging. Integrity , I think, is not an easy virtue to acquire and it’s not as common perhaps as I sometimes would like to think??

    • So welcome to the club, BG. It is challenging for many, perhaps most. And as for acquiring integrity, that is a significant process, not an overnight sensation. But it is quite doable, given time and consistent practice. As with so many challenges and opportunities, it comes back to choice. Asked rhetorically, Is this something one wants?

  2. I am intrigued with this post. I have been struggling with this topic because I have not been 100% with integrity. A few weeks ago, I realized that I did start to pick up the behaviors of those who surround me and then I started to learn about toxic environment and toxic people. As I stated in a recent post of mine, it all boils down to choice and I eventually made the choice that if I am to be true to myself 100% of the time, then I have to be willing to accept that I may stand out from the crowd. After assimiliating that thought, I became free from the behavior of others and felt much better knowing that I am true to myself and not accountable to anyone else except myself. When I am not honest, I beat the crap out of myself which leads to behavior that is not honorable to myself or others.

    Thanks for the post 🙂

    • It sounds as if you have considerable awareness around integrity and how it plays in your life. Good for you! And while few of us like to dishonor ourselves, please do not “…beat the crap out of (your)self.” That rarely accomplished much. 🙂 You seem to know the role integrity has in your being and it sounds constructive. Onward, and thank you for commenting!

  3. Dear Eric.. i love to read an outstanding posts such as this one, indeed, it is tough to gain integrity. I am curious about your personality and lifespan. Would you mind to “write a small novel” about yourself (as PM to email)? i wonder who is the Eric Tonningsen in real?! thanks a lot in advance

  4. JS, you are too kind. Thank you for reading and commenting. It *is* tough to be in integrity but it’s also quite doable. To your request, I’d be happy to share a little about myself though learning about the “real” Eric Tonningsen may be less than spectacular. 🙂 I will email you as soon as I have some discretionary time.

  5. Taking on the traits of those we spend time with…that point really resonates with me. It’s so true. We can say it’s not but in the end it happens exactly as you describe. I think this is something that every person should have to take a class in before considering marriage 🙂 Being facetious of course, but it gets back to the Bible verse about being equally yoked. Anyway rambling a bit here but enjoyed the post and particularly that part. Cheers. -BW

    • Facetious aside, I agree. I believe it ought to be taught or at least some awareness created around this premise. And you’re not rambling at all. I appreciate your thoughtful perspectives. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Eric I find your posts so refreshing, so practical and readable. It’s always a highlight for me to read one of your posts. Once again an outstanding one – thank you. I think one of the sad things about Lance Armstrong was that even after the fall and especially during his interview with Oprah, he was still trying to justify what he’d done. His was a clear inability to deal with that first principle you mention – facing up to the obstacles etc – I hope he has done that now. Thanks again.

    • Thank you. Don. The feeling is significantly mutual (with your posts). Re: Lance, I believe the man is blessed with a foreseeably healthy future in which he can contemplate his choices and actions. I feel badly for him. What a world he created for himself, only to have been the catalyst for its demise. I hope some good comes of it for him.

  7. “. . . we’ll likely find ourselves following a pattern of first enduring their behavior, then accepting their behavior, and finally adopting their behavior.”

    And that, in a nutshell, is why I stopped practicing law. Because I was surrounded by people who lacked integrity ~ judges, jurors, experts, witnesses, lawyers. And I did NOT want to play by their rules.

    • Likewise here. I knew this for a long time… played the corporate game well. But I always (in hindsight) knew that I was misaligned with what I was doing to earn a nice living and who I was (and still am) at my core. Values can easily trump a lack of integirty, if one chooses.

  8. I think you are right, especially within the working environment as I find people take sides, clicking together gossiping and those who join in just to stay in the same click!… Instead of standing up with their own views…
    You used some good examples…
    Thank you Sue

    • Thank you, Sue. The workplace seems to be where this is most rampant, although there’s plenty of inauthenticity and lack of integrity in our everyday world. I appreciate your acknowledging the examples in the post.

  9. When I (voluntarily) left my last job, the best feedback I had was that my boss considered that my integrity was faultless. You can have no idea of how uplifted that made me feel. If I had to choose one quality, then it would be integrity in all things.

  10. I’m sure uplifted, as well as confident and proud! Indeed, what glowing and generous words s/he chose to share with you. Good to know there are many of us who hold the quality in such high regard. Appreciate your thoughtful comment, Mary.

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