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Integrity Is Who You Are When *Everyone* Is Watching

You’ve probably heard it said…

Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.

The point is a good one—the same values you espouse when people are watching should be what you live out when they’re not. In short, be consistent.

But there’s a flaw in this perspective—let’s call it The Integrity Myth.

We know we are often inconsistent with our values, both when we’re with others and especially when we’re not. The most common definition of integrity doesn’t account for this. It merely says we should—we must—do the right thing even when no one is watching.

But what about when we don’t? What about when we do not live up to our high values? What about when we are not consistent? What do we all do when we are inconsistent?

That’s exactly where real integrity comes in.

Real integrity is not simply doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.

Real integrity is admitting you did the wrong thing, even when no one was watching.

This is extremely hard. I just wrote this piece about how bad I am at this part of adulthood, this real integrity. I hate admitting I’m wrong, that I’ve made a mistake. I wish I never had to say that I’m sorry.

But I do.

Real integrity is admitting that sometimes when no one is looking, I sneak over to the cookie jar.

This integrity, rather than what we find in The Integrity Myth, is the one that matters. We know that nobody’s perfect. Integrity is admitting, “I am not perfect.”

People are watching for this kind of integrity, especially from leaders like parents and colleagues. They want to know if you have it.

Do you?

How do you define integrity? How do you deal with your failures? Am I on to something here?