Words Matter. But Integrity Matters More.

Words Matter. But Integrity Matters More.

integrityWhen I was in college and asked a young lady out to a concert I didn’t realize it at the time but “No” was actually a good answer because it was truthful. I knew that I needed to ask someone else. “Yes” was a better answer, IF it was truthful. Occasionally after a “yes” when I went to pick the young lady up for the concert her roommate said, “She left here 30 minutes ago with another guy.” It was only then that I realized that “yes” wasn’t exactly truthful. It really meant that I was the back-up plan.

We are now in the midst of election season. We will hear a lot of words and some of them will sound pretty good. How can we tell if they are truthful? One thing we can do is look at the past actions of the individuals. Do their words match up with their past actions? A politician’s words are important but talk is cheap. What have their actions been? Do they have integrity? If they or their ads will lie to us during the campaign how can we trust them if they get elected?

The leadership and soft skills class at Pierpont Community College that I’m teaching this fall just spent most of the first week talking about integrity. These are second year students. Based on the quiz I gave, they get it. They know that our reputation precedes us. Integrity is about honesty but it is also about doing what we say we will do. It is about being a person that is trustworthy, dependable and true to our values even when no one is watching. Today with social media and the internet someone probably is watching.

As a manager I always wanted to know the truth even if it was something I didn’t like. I knew that if we had a problem our best chance to fix it was if we had the facts. Leaders need to be people of integrity to set the example and then expect integrity from their people.

Integrity is about our performance matching our words. We’ve all seen the individual that looks good, says all of the right things politically but can’t be depended on to perform. Maybe their teams consistently can’t meet revenue, profit, production or other targets. Challenges happen to everyone. Everyone fails or falls short periodically. This is actually good as long as we learn from it. It means we are taking risks and trying new things. But consistent failure to perform and meet expectations causes a lack of trust even if the individual has good explanations. Integrity is critical in times like these of mergers, acquisitions, restructuring and downsizing. We need to know how people in leadership positions will perform based on their past performance.

I remember one merger I was involved with in the 1990s. A manager was put in charge of all of our business units in the northeast who was from the company we were merging with. He was from outside the region. This man said all of the right things in his memos to us. I met him only once and that was at our first regional meeting of the new organization. He dressed well and seemed like a nice guy. He spoke only briefly and spewed out some words of wisdom from Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as his own. That put his integrity in question for me. In less than six months he suddenly disappeared leaving his family and his job. We found out that he left to join a commune. Someone should have looked at his integrity rather than his words before they put him in such an important and powerful position.

We need to all be people of integrity. When we are putting people in positions of leadership do we look at their words or do we look at the results they have gotten. Can we trust them? Do they have integrity? Do they have a track record of success?

In our personal lives, in business and in our political process there is no substitute for integrity. Words are important but they are no match for actions and integrity. Thoughts to ponder. (Image from google images)

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