One definition of integrity is the state of being complete or undivided. To live in complete integrity is more of a process than an absolute because sometimes our competing desires come into conflict. For example, you want to lose weight but you like to eat out. You want to make more money but you also want to have more free time. Or you say that you value high productivity but you also value relationships. Eventually these desires will compete and that the competition will either divide your loyalties or strengthen your commitments. When you are divided because of competing commitments, I call this “The Integrity Gap.”
Aligning all of your intentions is the process of striving toward integrity. So how do you know if you have gaps of integrity? You look for the signs that challenge your integrity and character.
My friend shared a story that I think will drive this point home, and it is something I hope you can use in your business and at your family dinner table.
While watching her 15-year old son play tennis, my friend watched another parent, a father of young tennis player get up and leave in the middle of the same match because his son was playing poorly. My friend listened to the man’s wife justifying her husbands behavior: “He just demands perfection, and can’t stand to see his son losing or playing poorly.”
What makes the story a little more interesting is that this parent is a celebrity entertainer, and I’m 99 percent certain that if you asked this entertainer if he has integrity he would answer “yes” without a second thought. Obviously a celebrity entertainer understands the work ethic and what it takes to get ahead. Too bad the celebrity entertainer does not understand the difference between perfection and excellence. Perfection can often be attained without integrity but excellence can only be attained through integrity.
Perfection is about winning at all costs. Excellence is about winning with integrity. In reality, there are two games going on here: the game of winning a tennis match, and the game of being a good parent. When two compelling desires compete for the championship, integrity often suffers.
Surely this father loves his son, but his ability to show support fades in the face of another competing desire: to see his son win a tennis match. The father’s behavior shows that is greatest desire is to see his son win a tennis match, and this desire outweighs the desire to show fatherly support, or to teach a lesson about good sportsmanship. The lack of integrity (being divided) surfaces when the test of courage presents itself as an opportunity to sit though a tennis match at which his son is losing.
In his quest for perfection the tennis player’s father communicates an imperfect message to his 15 year old son: Winning is more important than my relationship with you and my support is conditional on you performing perfectly at the tennis match. Teaching the lesson of integrity means living a life congruent with valuing integrity.
Another father at a soccer game encouraged his kid to bad mouth the referee. Again, the message is I value winning but I do not value due process, respect for authority or even learning how to accept and benefit from an occasional loss. Again, I’ll bet if I asked this father if he has integrity he would say, “Yes.” What this father doesn’t realize is that he is teaching his son to disrespect authority, to think he is above the rules and to rule by intimidation.
In his book Seat of the Soul, author Gary Zukav calls the conflict of mixed desires a state of being “splintered.”
In the business world splintered messages are responsible for the distrust, the lack of loyalty and the perceived lack of fairness. For example, when productivity is sought and achieved without regarding the relationship outcomes, a company creates a competition of relationship versus productivity. If there is integrity within the company relationship and productivity are two symbiotic entities. When one suffers then there is a lack of integrity between the two desired outcomes.
An example of competing desires is the workplace bully who just happens to be the highest producer. In my consulting work I have seen time and time again the workplace bully who just happens to be the highest producer. Management often fails to notice because they desire the productivity levels and mistakenly believe without their star performer the company would suffer; therefore they do not address the bullying issues and thus sacrifice relationship outcomes for immediate productivity outcomes. What the management often doesn’t recognize is that because of the “splintered” message they are giving the other co-workers by ignoring or denying the issues results in delayed relationship outcomes that eventually affect the bottom line: absenteeism, turnover, low morale and workplace drama.
In the end, clarity can change any situation. If you wan to close the integrity gap, get crystal clear about the “island” you want to row to and know what is required to get there. Then you won’t take the left hand turn to the island of competing desires, no matter how compelling.