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Personal integrity: what it is and why it matters

a happy woman sharing what personal integrity is

When you hear the word “integrity” it can feel weighty and a little bit ambiguous. You might know it’s a good thing to have, but aren’t exactly clear on what exactly personal integrity is or how you can demonstrate that you have it. 

However mushy and intangible it might seem, personal integrity is a critical life skill. It can lead you to be the person you want to become and keep you on track when you stumble off your path. 

Let’s break down what personal integrity is, why it’s important in your life, how to show you possess it, and how it can impact the people around you.

Table of contents

Integrity can have a significant impact on your own mental health as well as the success of your organization.

  • It is well known that holding intrinsic values, such as personal growth and affiliation, is positively associated with happiness. [1]
  • Studies have shown that people who think about their highest values before a stressful event experience less stress. [2]
  • Knowing your values helps you distinguish between what seems urgent and what is truly important. [2]
  • 33% of workers across 13 countries said they had observed misconduct in their workplace in the previous year. [3]
  • In the United States, 30% of workers have witnessed rules violations at work. [3]
  • Both employees and C-suite leaders place a high premium on integrity among executives. [4]
  • Stock prices of companies recognized for their ethics outperformed the U.S. Large Cap Index by nearly 5% from 2015 to 2017. [5]
  • Only 21% of employees believe they work in a business with a strong ethical culture. [5]
  • 40% of employees said their companies had weak or weak-leaning ethics. [5]
  • More than 50% of the 10 largest corporate bankruptcies since 1980, such as Enron, WorldCom, and Lehman Brothers, resulted from unethical business practices. [6]
  • The ethics of an organization’s culture plays a significant role in creating and sustaining value. [6]

What does personal integrity mean?

Personal integrity is defined as having strong morals or values and following those principles in both your words and actions. 

The concept of having integrity is really quite simple—living with integrity means you uphold your values, no matter the situation or who is watching. You live to your own moral code.

An easy way to think about integrity is matching up what you say with what you do. For example, someone would show a lack of integrity if they say that honesty is one of their values but they’re often dishonest or often don’t share the entire truth with others. If honesty (or personal integrity) is important to you, you’ll find a way to be transparent with others, even when it’s difficult to do. 

When you have personal integrity, you’re not just acting according to your morals, you’re also true to yourself and what you believe in. You don’t let others influence you easily, and you stick to your principles when it comes to what you want in life and the type of person you want to be.

Why is personal integrity important?

Personal integrity is important for a lot of reasons, but it mostly boils down to it being the right thing to do. When you have integrity, you’re committed to doing the right thing, no matter what. A person with high integrity is more likely to feel content in life since they know what their values and priorities are and aren’t afraid to take action to pursue them. 

Demonstrating integrity can make you more friends, too. Others value integrity in the people they surround themselves with since most people don’t like to work or be with others who don’t have strong or even aligned values.

And finally, as the data above shows, if an organization’s culture lacks integrity, it can also negatively affect employees and the business’ overall performance. A company actually performs better when there’s an environment that values integrity and employees are held to high ethical standards. 

How do you show personal integrity?

Personal integrity is demonstrated by the way you live your life day in and day out. Being consistent with your values and principles is the biggest way to show you have personal integrity and can be relied upon to do the right thing, even when no one is watching. 

You can also show your personal integrity if you are upfront about any potential mistakes you’ve made or that you’ve witnessed from others and feel obligated to report. Keeping yourself and others honest is a strong contributor to having integrity. If you’re ever in doubt on how you can show integrity in a situation, just ask yourself what the right thing is to do. That’s your best way forward.

What are the five attributes of integrity?

1. Have and follow a set of values

It’s impossible to have integrity if you don’t have a moral code that you set for yourself and follow. Your values can be written down, or you could create a mission statement for yourself that you tie everything in your life back to. For some people, it’s also helpful to follow a philosophical or religious doctrine to help them shape their morals and values. 

Some example personal values you could jot down include: 

  • Authenticity
  • Gratitude
  • Honesty
  • Kindness
  • Reliability 

However you decide to form your values, it’s key that you follow those principles in all situations to develop and uphold integrity. Your values are your roadmap to success in personal integrity. 

2. Be honest 

Honesty is also a critical part of having personal integrity. In addition to following a set of values, you should also be transparent and honest about your actions because you have nothing to hide. 

Everyone appreciates honesty, even though it can be difficult for the truth teller and the receiver of the truth. By making honesty a priority in your life, you’ll be able to maintain your personal integrity.

3. Help others

A person who wants to help others spreads a lot of good in the world and usually shows good moral character. If you value generosity and good deeds, you’ll also want to make sure you follow through on those values and take action. 

You can help people who you interact with day-to-day or reach out to volunteer organizations to do service work in your community. However you choose to give back, it’s important to do so authentically and not just to maintain appearances or check off a box. 

4. Lead by example

One of the worst types of leaders is someone with the philosophy, “do as I say, not as I do.” It’s hard to respect someone who doesn’t follow through on what they say they’ll do, and even harder to work with or for them. 

One of the best ways to demonstrate that you have integrity is to act according to your values, whether the people around you follow those principles or not. While you may not have direct reports, you can still lead others to act with integrity. You’ll be seen as someone with good character if you can follow your morals while everyone else follows their whims—and you may even inspire others to follow your example.  

5. Take responsibility 

There will probably come a time when you don’t demonstrate integrity well or slip up on your values. This is normal and remember that everyone makes mistakes from time to time. 

However, how you respond after recognizing that you messed up is important. If you avoid taking responsibility and find excuses for why you didn’t behave according to your morals, you’re digging yourself into an even deeper hole away from personal integrity.

When you’ve messed up, own up to your mistake and hold yourself accountable for any repercussions. Not only will other people respect you more for your responsibility, you may even repair any damage done when you broke trust in going against your values. 

What is personal integrity in the workplace?

As the data above showed, integrity can have a significant impact on organizations and employees in the workplace. A company’s ethical culture is vital to a productive and good work environment. 

Here are four ways that integrity shows up in the workplace and what you can do to make sure you demonstrate personal integrity at work. 

1. Follow company policies

The reason company policies are created in the first place is to ensure the business maintains or develops an ethical culture. Companies often have a set list of values, policies, and mission statements to align employees on what is expected and important to the organization. 

By following these workplace rules and statements, whether it’s a vacation policy or anti-harassment policy, you have shown that you also find the guidance valuable and are willing to put the work in to ensure the workplace reflects what is outlined in the policies.     

2. Respect all coworkers

While you may not be everyone’s best friend, it’s still important to show respect and kindness to everyone in the workplace. There will be times when you may disagree with someone and it would be easy to gossip about them with your work friends. However, hold yourself to the principles you value and take the high road. 

You’ll be seen as a mature and capable professional, and will gain even more respect from your boss or colleagues. Respect also shows up by allowing others to contribute equally during meetings, being flexible with different working schedules, and asking for input or feedback. 

3. Speak up about any misconduct

The phrase, “If you see something, say something,” applies pretty well here. If you see any of your coworkers or leaders acting in a way that doesn’t reflect the company’s values or could be considered unethical, you should take the opportunity to speak up. 

It can feel intimidating to come forward about workplace misconduct, especially if the person you’re reporting is a friend or your superior. But if you don’t say something, who will? A common excuse people use about not reporting unethical behavior is they believe someone else will report it, but then no one does and the behavior goes unchecked. Keep your workplace an environment full of integrity by holding yourself and your colleagues to ethical standards.  

4. Be accountable for mistakes

There are also situations where behavior isn’t necessarily unethical, but doesn’t reflect your integrity. If there was a mistake made, own up to your oversight and take responsibility in making it right. Putting blame on others or avoiding any confrontation expands the issue and doesn’t show good character on your part. 

Additionally, you can show personal integrity by how you go about your work. For example, if you hand in a project that was done with little effort because you were feeling lazy on Friday afternoon, that doesn’t hold up well if you or your organization values hard work. You can hold yourself accountable by planning out time to work on projects so you don’t wait until the last minute or by being honest with your business partners to find a reasonable deadline where you can showcase your best work. 

The best way to develop personal integrity is to get started

You likely act with personal integrity already, but if you think that you have some areas to work on, you’re not alone. Integrity is a lifelong journey that requires patience as you cultivate this critical life skill. 

You’ll also need to give yourself some grace. There will be times along the way where you don’t show integrity or aren’t as honest as you could have been. You can use these experiences as learning opportunities to find out what went wrong, and then own up and correct your mistake. 

Regardless of where you are in your journey to demonstrating personal integrity, you’ll never improve if you don’t get started. Begin by reflecting on areas in your personal life or workplace where you can demonstrate integrity. Then, you can focus on developing the five attributes of personal integrity: follow a set of values, be honest, help others, lead by example, and take responsibility. Ask a trusted friend or a life coach to help keep you accountable, and you’ll see that showing integrity will soon become second nature. 

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