Integrity: It’s Not What You Think

If I were to ask you what your values are, would you include ‘integrity’ in the list?

I’m going to guess you said “Yes” because, after ‘honesty’, it’s the second most common response people give. But guess what?

That thing that you’ve been calling a value all these years, isn’t actually a value. Yeah…you heard me right.

Integrity is not a value

At this point, you may be thinking, “What the heck is this loon on about! Of course integrity is a value!” to which I say, “Not in my book.” (And as you may have read in my previous post, I have some pretty strong ideas about what constitutes a value.)

That’s because integrity itself is not a value, but it is the umbrella under which your actual values sit.

Here’s what I’m talking about…

Try answering the following question:

What do you mean by integrity?

It’s a question I pose to my clients when I’ve asked them what their values are and they’ve replied “Integrity”.

Because if you’re anything like them, your definition will see you describing integrity using words which are, in themselves, actual values. For example, in the past when I’ve asked “What do you mean by integrity?” I’ve been told:

“It’s about being honest with people and keeping a promise.”

or

“It’s about being fair and equal so everyone gets the same opportunities.”

or

“It’s about doing what’s right according to my own moral compass.”

or

“It’s about being trusted to be honest and do the right thing.”

Honesty, fairness, equality, trust…those are the person’s values, not the integrity itself.

In fact, looking at one dictionary definition of integrity, it says: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character.

See that? Your values are the moral and ethical principles. Your integrity is what you do with them.

Why does it matter?

Most everyone thinks they have integrity. But when it means such different things to different people and carries such different values underneath it, depending on the individual’s point of view, confusion can arise. Going deeper into what integrity means for you, listing the actual values that make it up (in your book), makes that confusion go away.

Taking this back to your personal brand: if you want people to understand what makes you tick, you need to be sure the language you’re using means the same thing in their brain as it does yours.

Just saying, “One of my key values is integrity” could lead people to think a whole host of different things (just as my list of examples above shows). But if you say instead, “My integrity means I adhere to my values of [value], [value] and [value]” then you’ll be stating your personal brand in a way that makes sense – and therefore means something.

You may have read all that and be thinking, “Jennifer is completely wrong – that’s not what integrity is.” In which case, I’d love you to tell me how you’d define it. Or you may be thinking, “You know what? She has a point.” Which is also something I’d love to hear. Either way, there’s a comment box below where you can share your thoughts.

Like this? Share it or join in the discussion…

2 responses to “Integrity: It’s Not What You Think”

  1. Denis Kaye says:

    You do have a point! I’d not thought about integrity in the way you define it, but it is clear and rational. I now feel happier with setting out the values that support my integrity and describing what they mean for me and for the people with whom I work.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      I’m glad it hit the spot Denis. To be honest, I’d not thought about integrity as anything other than a value until I started digging into my clients’ brains in order to define their personal brands. It was when they kept describing integrity in so many different ways that I realised it stood apart from the values themselves.

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