There are several guarantees in the campaign for President of the United States:
- The other side – regardless of the side you are on – will be portrayed by their opponents as completely out of touch with the “average” American
- Every candidate will make promises that can only be kept with the cooperation of Congress, and every candidate will pledge to work with their opponents across the isle
- Personal attacks will be plentiful and usually cloaked in an argument about policy implications
- The choice between candidates will always be framed as two distinct visions that will determine the destiny and fate of the country
- Integrity – or specifically the lack of it – will be called into question by the candidates, their surrogates, and the media pundits
There is little any of us can do to change the first four items on this list. They are going to happen regardless of any efforts to restore civility and common sense to the campaign.
But, we can each make a reasoned judgment about the integrity of the candidates.
It may not seem like much, but the answer to the question of who can you trust and why is at the heart of selecting a leader.
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines integrity as, “the quality or state of being complete; wholeness; the quality or state of being unimpaired; and being of sound moral principle.”
Still a little unclear? Perhaps breaking down Webster’s definition in practical terms will help. Seven themes emerge when the dictionary definition of integrity is applied to how we live and lead. Think of them as the Seven Cs of Integrity:
1. Clarity: Individuals who act with integrity are clear on their values, beliefs, and priorities. Like a fine gemstone, light shined on this person is not scattered or diffused by impurities and inconsistencies. Clarity of purpose and principles are evident in every action, decision, and communication.
2. Constancy: Faithfulness, fidelity, stability, steadfast, and unwavering—these are the words that define the person who possesses constancy. She is unwavering in her dedication. He is steadfast in his beliefs. They are faithful to the commitments and promises they make. There is a fine line between constancy and rigidity. Constancy—and by connection integrity—do not shackle you to a set of beliefs forever. It requires thoughtful examination to determine the truth.
3. Consistency: Closely tied to constancy, consistency transforms beliefs into action. The constancy of our beliefs is demonstrated through the consistency of our actions. Consistency promotes trust and provides a sense of stability to others.
4. Congruency: Congruency in geometry means that two objects are roughly the same shape and size. Applied to people, it means there is consistency between what we feel on the inside and what we do on the outside. Congruency takes the concept of consistency to a deeper level. You can be consistent without being congruent. But, you cannot be congruent without being consistent.
5. Commitment: Commitment requires two things: a promise and an involvement. The person of integrity commits or pledges to act in a specific manner. The promise obligates involvement. As the pig said to the chicken at the suggestion that they treat their caretaker farmer to a breakfast of ham and eggs, “This requires your participation. I, on the other hand, am making a commitment.”
6. Courage: Courage is the willingness to face or deal with anything that is dangerous, difficult, or painful rather than avoiding it by making another choice. From a physical sense, it is an example of the fight/flight decision. Do you confront the thing you fear or do you flee for safety? The implication holds true from a moral perspective. The person of integrity faces and makes the difficult choice even when the outcome could be painful or unpopular.
7. Concern: Concern when used as a verb means to show interest or regard for a person or thing. Its opposite is indifference. The concern we speak of here is what Webster defined as a “sound moral principle.” It is the ethical part of the definition of integrity. The person of integrity is concerned with understanding and doing what’s right. Concern also requires consideration of others’ interests rather than a sole devotion to our own.
That’s interesting – so what?
It took me 434 words to explain the definition of a word we all believe that we know and understand. That’s the point. We don’t all share the same definition of a word that is universally considered an important trait for all leaders to have. You might believe that integrity is consistency. I might see it as congruency or courage. We would both be right, and neither of us would be any closer to a common understanding of what it takes to live and lead with integrity.
So here is my definition of integrity: Completeness, honesty, and transparency in thought, communication, and action.
Integrity means being accountable and responsible not just to yourself, but to also consider the implications of actions and decisions on others—ethically, morally, and physically. It means being clear, constant, and consistent in the beliefs and values for which you stand. Integrity means that there is congruency between internal beliefs and external actions. And it means that you have the courage to do what’s right even when it is not convenient or no one else is looking.
So now the choice is yours
You are going to hear a lot of discussion and accusations about who can you trust as the next leader of the free world. Trust – at its core – comes down to integrity. It is up to all of us to determine which candidate comes closest to this definition.
And once you have made that core decision, it clears the way for a discussion about vision and policy.