5 Signs You Lack Integrity

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Integrity is something you desire, but how do you know if you have it?  And what exactly is it anyway?

Sometimes it’s easiest to think about something out of its immediate context.  

When something is well built, we say it has structural integrity.  So, in an earthquake, the building with excellent structural integrity survives.  When something physically collapses, we say it didn’t have the integrity to withstand the impact.

All of this springs from the original Latin root of integrity, which means ‘intact.’  Can you withstand the crisis intact?

Many people aren’t withstanding crises well these days. The storm buffets and collapse along with their family or their organization.

The tension is that no one sees the problem until the storm hits. ‘Normal’ doesn’t really test your integrity.   Crises do. But when a crisis comes, it’s often too late to fix what’s wrong. The damage is happening in real-time.

‘Normal’ doesn’t really test your integrity. Crises do. But when a crisis comes, it’s often too late to fix what’s wrong.

While there are many things that compromise our integrity, here are five signs that show your integrity is in question:

1.  It’s all about you.

You can say it’s about God.  You can say it’s about others.  But only you and God know your heart. Selfish people harm their organizations, families, and friends. If it’s all about you, you won’t go the distance.  Or you will, but you’ll hurt a lot of people in the process and you’ll never know what could have happened if you made it about God and others.

2. Your self-esteem rises and falls with the opinion of others.

A secure leader can see the right way and lead people there through tough conditions.  An insecure leader will bend with every change in public opinion. This means you’re not actually leading anyone, not even yourself.

An insecure leader will bend with every change in public opinion.

3. You’re hiding things.

You shouldn’t be telling everyone everything (that’s not healthy) – but someone needs to know everything.  If you’re keeping secrets, you’re heading for a fall.  Between my wife, elders, close friends, and counselor, I have an inner circle that knows everything about me.  (By the way, if you’re afraid to give your password on your computer or phone to anyone in that circle, you’re hiding things).

If you’re afraid to give your password on your computer or phone to your inner circle, then you’re hiding things.

4.  You fail to do what you said you were going to do.

This isn’t just about keeping promises; it’s about keeping your word in everything.  Better to say nothing and surprise someone by delivering than blurt out an intention you can’t fulfill.   Ultimately, people lose confidence in you when you fail to deliver.  It’s a trust issue.  

A fairly easy way to address this is to say less and deliver more.  A great follow-up system also helps (sometimes a lack of integrity isn’t even a moral issue – just an awareness and organization issue).

5.  You make too many compromises.

Leadership is not about getting everyone to like you or about finding the easiest path.  It’s about discerning the best way forward.  It’s about getting people to go where they wouldn’t go if it wasn’t for leadership.  If you make too many decisional compromises or even a handful of personal compromises, your effectiveness will be – you guessed it – compromised.

The Cost

Don’t just think of these things as character flaws, think of what’s at stake: When the crises hit (and they will), you won’t be left standing.  Simple as that.  When you attend to these things, your integrity grows, and so does your ability to live and lead through difficult times.

Fortunately, integrity can be built and rebuilt. In a follow-up post, I outline 5 ways to build your integrity. You can read it here.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.