Stop Being Honest

Yes, you heard me right. Stop being honest! Going further, the world does not need any more honesty. While we could all do better with honesty – more people being more honest – I’ve come to realize that honesty (or the lack thereof) is not the problem. In fact, the pursuit of honesty often gets us caught up in questions like this (my answers follow each question):

  • Does that mean honest all the time (e.g. “Does this dress make me look fat?”)? [Of course not!]
  • What about little white lies? [It depends on the context.]
  • Isn’t honesty relative? [It often is.]
  • What about confidential information or secrets (personal or professional)? [Yes, there’s another exception to complete honesty.]
  • Doesn’t discretion sometimes argue for less than full honesty? [Yes, it does.]

That’s confusing, especially if you thought honesty was an easy concept and one that could easily be embraced and implemented.

Okay, I know you’re waiting for the punch line or twist. Here you go: We don’t need more honesty, but we need a whole lot more INTEGRITY. Integrity is not the same as honesty. While honesty may be a part of integrity, integrity is much bigger and more powerful than honesty, and the world is woefully missing integrity.

Merriam-Webster defines integrity as follows:

The quality of being honest and fair; the state of being complete or whole. Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.

Certainly, Merriam-Webster includes honesty in their definition, but that does not make honesty and integrity the same thing. Free Dictionary’s definition is similar:

  1. Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.
  2. The state of being unimpaired; soundness.
  3. The quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.

I don’t know about you, but I find the definitions confusing.

Here’s my simple definition of integrity: Do what you say you’re going to do. Simple, yes; easy … apparently not.

I was with a client today (a lawyer) and she told me that she had recently completed a mediation that resulted in a settlement (or so they thought). When the opposing party submitted a draft settlement agreement, it was materially different from the key points agreed to in writing at the mediation. Was this dishonest? Perhaps. Was it a lie? Probably not. Was it outside of integrity? Absolutely. When I said to my client “You know what this world needs more of,” she responded “Integrity.”

When I talk to business owners, the lack of self-accountability is always one of their top three organizational and team challenges. More specifically, people and teams are not consistently doing what they say they will do. Translation: people and teams are out of integrity. While accountability is a missing ingredient for many businesses, the core issue is a lack of integrity. There is also a basic absence of integrity as part of the organizational and team communication and language. While it should be obvious to all, integrity must be part of the organizational conversation in order to improve accountability and enhance execution.

As leaders and managers, there are a couple of things that we love to hear:

  • “I’ve got it.”
  • “It’s done.”

Both of these are outcomes of integrity in action. With the first – I’ve got it – the person is letting us know that they have accepted the project, assignment or goal and that it will be done as committed. With the second – It’s done – the person is confirming that they are in integrity with their commitments. However, there is one critical difference between the first and the second.

With the second – It’s done – we can easily see and know whether it’s actually done and therefore are fully confident in the result. With the first, however – I’ve got it – one essential element is the other missing ingredient in many organizations. Trust!

Think about it. Integrity is the label we put on someone who does what they say they are going to do. If it’s with respect to a specific task, project or commitment, then they are in integrity with the specific commitment. If it’s a consistent pattern (not necessarily perfect, but strong) of honoring commitments, then we say that the person is a person of integrity. If this consistent pattern of doing what you say you will do is in place, then trust is earned and trust is confirmed. The absence of integrity (a pattern of someone not doing what they say they will do) almost always results in damage to – or even a complete lack of – trust.

A mistake that many people and organizations make is assuming that trust is present and ignoring the fact that trust falters when people do not honor their commitments. In short, if you are out of integrity because you do not consistently do what you say you will do, then you will not be trusted because you have not earned that trust. Too many people want to demand trust, but trust is earned and lost as a result of our own actions and behaviors. Often, this behavior is the failure to do what you say you will do.

How would your business improve if you could count on every team member doing what they said they would do? How would your teams improve if you could trust that every team member would deliver on time and as promised? How would your life simplify and improve if everyone you interacted with did just one thing – deliver on what they say they will do? This is transformation in action!

We need more people making clear commitments and honoring those commitments. I have yet to meet a person who woke up in the morning with a goal to be outside of integrity, personally or professionally. They may end up out of integrity, but that is rarely their goal or objective. What about you? How important is your personal integrity? How committed are you to being a person of integrity? If you have never answered this question before, then now is the time. As each person commits to living a life of integrity, the world changes for the better – relationships, communities, businesses and lives. While honesty is good, shift your focus to walking in integrity in all parts of your life and invite others to walk with you.

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