Thursday, March 11, 2010

Integrity: Honoring Your Word As Yourself

“We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot.” ~Abraham Lincoln

The word “integrity” has a lot of weight to it, particularly as we continue to hear of political scandals, shady business practices, and hypocrisy among people. There are many meanings and perspectives that are associated with integrity, but broadly speaking it is about honoring your word as yourself. It is about following through on what you say you’ll be (values) or do (commitments).

Integrity itself is subjective. It is a code of conduct that we define for ourselves, created from our own personal beliefs and the adopted beliefs of our social systems. We know for ourselves when we have it or not by looking to how much our actions align with our words. When we are “in integrity,” we are honoring our promises to ourselves and others. When we are “out of integrity,” we are failing to stick to what we said we’d be/do.

Ultimately, integrity is neither good nor bad. It is just an evaluation of “what’s so” -- of whether or not we have fulfilled upon what we committed to. More often than not, well intentioned people fall out of integrity simply because they did not have adequate structures in place to support them in following-through on their commitments.

4 Steps to Regaining Your Integrity:
  1. Reflect on what happened on your part that led to you being out of integrity
  2. Clean it up by getting in communication and saying what’s so
  3. Create a new commitment or terminate the agreement
  4. Follow-through and keep in communication as issues arise

What You Said You’d Do: Complete a project for your client by February 28.

What Happened: You got really slammed and you missed your deadline. You’re scrambling to pull it together as soon as you can. It’s March 11 and you have been afraid to contact your client because you feel bad, you’re embarrassed, and you want to have it “more than perfect” now that you are late.

What’s So: You are neither good nor bad. You are simply out of communication and did not complete the work by the date you said you would. You are committed to the work and you want to clean up your integrity.

Following the 4 Steps:
  1. Consider for yourself what happened that had your integrity go out. Be objective and honest with yourself, and don’t make yourself wrong. Were you biting off more than you could chew? Did you plan poorly? Did you commit to a date that wasn’t feasible? Did you fail to create adequate structures (i.e., time/energy management, scheduling, resources, support, manpower, etc.) to achieve your commitment?
  2. Contact your client and own where you are out of integrity. Keep it simple. Apologize, don’t make excuses, and do not lie about your reasons. Provide whatever pertinent details are important to them, but don’t overdo it.
  3. Make a new commitment. This may be on the same terms or may be an altered version of the project. It will have a new deadline. Or it may be a termination of the commitment altogether. But most importantly, make a promise (to them and to yourself) to follow-through on your commitments and be in full communication as issues arise.
  4. Move heaven and earth to honor your commitment. Create the structures you need to follow through. Ask for help if you need it. Communicate well in advance if issues arise that may get in the way of you not being able to keep your word.
Your client may or may not be okay with what transpired. Your client may even fire you. But the most important part is: you got in communication, you cleaned up your integrity, and learned something valuable for the future about yourself and how best to follow-through on your commitments. The key will be to keep your commitment to yourself to honor your word as yourself.

If you cannot or don’t intend to fulfill upon what you say you’ll be/do, then don’t make that commitment.

“Promise only what you can deliver. Then deliver more than you promise.” ~Author Unknown


Alan Bryner said...

Wouldn't being in integrity have you also share that this is directly from Landmark Education's Integrity Seminar?

Judah S. Kurtz said...

Alan - Thank you for sharing your question and for your concern about my integrity. While I have not taken Landmark's Integrity Seminar, I agree my blog entry aligns with their point of view (as well as many other thinkers on this topic). Landmark is not the first, nor am I, to discuss integrity in this way. Most important is we discuss it and live it! For those of you unfamiliar with Landmark Education (, it is a powerful set of courses that will change your life... and your relationship to integrity!

Alan Bryner said...

Hi Judah - Thanks for responding. I have since learned that I am relatively naive in thinking that Landmark Education cornered the market on the integrity conversation. As you point out there are other thinkers on the topic. Carry on making a difference! :)