That is a word I see bandied about a lot on LinkedIn posts, but what does it mean?

In my training sessions (NB – only Americans use the word ‘trainings’ and it’s as ugly a word as you could ever meet), I would ask participants to identify their values and someone would, without fail, identify ‘Integrity’ as a major, personal value.

Then I’d ask them what it meant, and they would invariably reply, “Honesty.” It’s great when a participant feeds you the expected line.

“No, it doesn’t,” I’d reply, then wait for the argument.

Eventually, I would identify a distinction between honesty and integrity by explaining that Honesty is telling the truth, but integrity is being the truth.

Integrity is a word with the same etymological root as ‘integer’, meaning ‘whole’, as in a whole number. It means, therefore, that everything about something with integrity is part of that ‘everything’. It means no part of something with integrity can act independently of that ‘thing’. All of it acts in concert with any other part of it.

In other words, while honesty means talking your walk, integrity means walking the talk.

The next thing about integrity is that it is something you have, or you don’t. You don’t act with integrity when you adopt values that you disagree with, or in respect of which you can’t comply. That’s like a petrol car using diesel. It might work, but not very well and not for very long.

If you believe in truth, you cannot act with integrity by espousing things you believe to be untrue. (Unless, of course, you add ‘legal’ to the word ‘ethics’. Then you’ve redefined integrity to suit your lack of it. Steps back and waits for it……..)

People will try to intellectualise or rationalise themselves into justifying a lack of integrity, for example by saying they need the money to work in the banking industry, selling un-repayable loans to the poor.

But here’s the rub. If you believe it is okay to tell lies (or ‘exaggerations’) knowing they serve your client, or to sell rubbish loans because you believe the customer deserves to be conned – you’re still acting with integrity.

Where you lack integrity is when you argue against your beliefs, which in turn raises the question – if you can’t justify them, don’t you know them to be wrong?


Be careful when you accuse someone of lacking integrity. Make sure you know what their values are, and know whether your own actions reflect integrated compliance with your own.

Of course, to do that you need to know what they are – cue link….