Does Who You Are Match What You Say?

man with integrity talking to colleague

Integrity is a standard of personal morality and ethics. It is not relative to the situation and doesn’t sell out to expediency. Its short supply is getting even shorter. But without integrity, leadership is a façade.

Learning to see through exteriors is a critical development in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Sadly, many people continue to be taken in by big talk and media popularity, flashy looks and expensive possessions. They move through their life convinced that the externals are what count, and are thus doomed to live shallow lives. Those who rely on their looks or status to feel good about themselves inevitably do everything they can to enhance the impression they make. And they do correspondingly little to develop their inner value and personal growth. The paradox is that the people who try hardest to impress are often the least impressive. Puffing up to appear powerful is an attempt to hide insecurity.

In our friends, products and services, we prefer truth. In people, we value sincerity more than almost any other virtue. We expect it from our leaders, politicians, media outlets, business leaders and sports greats. We must also demand it of ourselves.

Why is integrity important?

Integrity that strengthens an inner value system is the real human bottom line. Commitment to a life of integrity in every situation demonstrates that your word is valuable. It means you don’t base your decisions on being politically correct. You do what’s right, not fashionable. You know that truth is absolute, not a device for manipulating others. And you win in the long run, when the stakes are highest.

If I were writing a single commandment for leadership, it would be: “You shall conduct yourself in such a manner as to set an example worthy of imitation by your children and subordinates.” In simpler terms, if they shouldn’t be doing it, then neither should you. I told my kids, “Clean up your room,” and they inspected the condition of my garage. I told them that honesty was our family’s greatest virtue. They commented on the radar detector I installed in my car. I told them about the vices of drinking and wild parties. They watched our guests at adult functions from the upstairs balcony.

It’s hardly a secret that learning integrity and ethical standards begins at home. A child’s first inklings of a sense of right and wrong come from almost imperceptible signals received long before they reach the age of rational thought about morality. In other words, they learn by example.

Some of our political and business leaders don’t understand that what you are speaks so loudly that no one really pays attention to what you say. But even more true is, if what you are matches what you say, then your life will speak forcefully indeed.

Don’t tell me how to live, or try to impress people by talking about your accomplishments. Instead, let your actions and integrity speak for you.

This article was published in April 2016 and has been updated. Photo by

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