My grandmother lived in a rural area a little over an hour’s drive from my home. We’d go visit her every couple of months, and the late-night drive back home took us down many quiet country roads.
It was rare to see any other cars until we approached the city again, and I don’t think I ever saw a police car during any of our trips.
One night, I asked my father why he always braked and waited at stop lights when we were in the middle of nowhere.
Surrounded by cornfields as we were, it’s not like anyone would ever know if he just gunned it right through the little intersections.
His response was: “integrity means doing the right thing, even when nobody’s watching”.
I’ve thought about that experience many times over the years, and recognized the quiet, but vital truth in those words.
Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not. – Oprah Winfrey
Authenticity, Trust, And Respect
Take a moment to think about a time when someone you trusted betrayed you.
It might have been a situation where you caught someone in a lie, or you discovered that someone stole from you.
Perhaps you found an employee stealing money, or that one of your friends lied to you about something important.
Even if it was to spare your feelings so you didn’t get hurt, it was still a betrayal, wasn’t it?
Integrity demands honesty and “right” behavior, even (especially) when it’s difficult to do so.
It might mean walking away from a job offer when you’re desperate for employment because you know that the company’s practices are illegal or unethical.
It could also mean having really difficult discussions with those you care about, because you’d rather that they know the truth, and know that you’re trustworthy, even if you’ve said or done something awful.
The worst truth is better than the best lie, and although you might end up making some enemies along the way because you’ve been honest, it’s more than likely that they’ll still respect you because you were honest about it.
People recognize those who live by high moral standards, and know that they can place their trust in them.
If you’re known for keeping promises and commitments, and doing the right thing in every area of your life, you’ll develop a reputation as an authentically good, trustworthy person.
You may not be liked at times, but you’ll be respected. In many situations, that’s actually preferable.
It’s Vital For Any Leadership Role
Who would you have more faith in? A charismatic leader who charms the pants off everyone, but doesn’t keep their word, or one who admits to their flaws, but keeps their promises?
I would always choose the latter, and I’m guessing you would as well.
Those who own up to their issues, but work hard to attain their goals – and to keep people’s trust in them – are far more valuable than those who break their word time and time again.
A boss who’s honest about cash flow problems in the company will keep employees’ loyalty, unlike one who insists all is well, only to hand out paychecks that bounce.
A leader who stands by their principles and exudes honesty is one who will lead their troops to victory. This is as relevant in the boardroom as it is on the battlefield.
Those who keep their word are worth their weight in gold, and it’s understandable why they develop such devoted followers.
In contrast, a person who “bends the truth” to their employees or followers, or fails to keep promises that are difficult to attain, will lose people’s trust very quickly.
A person is only as good as their word, and if they throw around the words “I promise” when it’s convenient, but fail to make good on those vows, how could anyone have faith in them?
If they broke their word about one thing, you can rest assured they’ll break it again in future.
If they lied about this, then what else have they lied about?
Remember that a person’s actions prove who they are. Getting caught in a single act of betrayal can unravel a person’s empire because suddenly everything they’ve ever said or done is taken into question.
The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour. – Japanese Proverb
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Truth Always Comes To Light
Even if you don’t really care whether others consider you to be trustworthy or not, there’s a self-serving aspect to cultivating integrity that you may want to keep in mind:
You will be found out eventually.
Recently, in my role as an editor, I had to fire an employee for plagiarism. The quality of this person’s work had lessened significantly over the past couple of months, and on a whim, I decided to run one of their submitted pieces through a comparison app.
It turned out that they had lifted entire paragraphs from Wikipedia, only changing one or two words to synonyms.
Other phrases and sentences had been cut and pasted verbatim from other sites, and cobbled together into a Frankenstein’s Monster that made no cohesive sense.
When confronted, the employee first lied about the situation, then made excuses, and then begged and pleaded for another chance. They claimed that this was the first time they’d ever done it, and they’d just gotten “sloppy.”
There was no part of me that believed that this was their first time plagiarizing. This was merely the first time I had caught them.
Knowing that this person had no qualms about stealing other people’s work and passing it off as their own, there was no way I could continue to permit them to write for my employer.
Even if they were incredibly diligent and sincerely created original work from that day forward, none of us could trust them again.
To have integrity means that you never have to look over your shoulder, worrying when your lies will catch up with you.
If and when you screw something up, you own it and take responsibility for it. No excuses. Explanations, perhaps, but no whining or pleading: merely honesty and self-respect.
Everyone screws up on occasion, but there’s a massive difference between an honest mistake, and intentional deceit. One is human error, the other will render you eternally untrustworthy in the eyes of everyone around you.
You’re better than that.
Who Do You Want To Be?
Do you know the difference between reputation and character?
The reputation you cultivate is entirely dependent on who other people think you are. Your character is who you are at the core, regardless of whether you’re being observed or not.
So what means more to you?
Being an authentically trustworthy person by sticking to your principles? Or pushing boundaries to see what you can get away with before you get caught?
When you listen to your heart and your conscience, and allow them to guide your words and actions, you know that you’re living in a manner that’s true to yourself.
You don’t ever have to be ashamed of your actions, nor worry that some dark secrets – those skeletons in your closet – might one day be discovered.
You can look yourself in the mirror and be proud of what you see there, instead of looking away out of shame and self-reproach.
Sure, those who lie, cheat, and steal seem to come out ahead at times, but those successes are often short-lived.
Those people tend to be surrounded by sycophants and yes-men, rather than devoted friends who’d do anything for them.
In contrast, those who live their lives with integrity may not always be wealthy, but they’ll have earned respect, loyalty, trust, and love.
Which path would you prefer to take?
Who do you want to be?