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Emma Sue Prince

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Small steps to integrity

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If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters. — Alan K. Simpson Integrity is a vital quality in work and life. It’s what you do when no one else is looking. It’s about honesty, principles and trust but I think we’ve lost sight of this. As the speed of life has accelerated, so has the number of people who are neglecting to do the things that are expected of them, including being late for appointments, failing to return calls and emails, and not completing projects on time. These may seem like small things but they are not!

These days we think nothing of cancelling a meeting or appointment at the last minute, without undue concern about the person we have let down. In fact, you are probably finding that  more and more appointments come with a last minute call or a text or an email announcing a late arrival or a change of plan. And if it’s not you sending those texts, you’re probably on the receiving end of them. Part of this is, of course, because we can. Our lifestyles and our reliance on technology encourage this. So does our love of what we think is multi-tasking as we hurtle through our lives. Social media and mobile phones are creating a strong tidal pull towards polychronic behaviors. At least two generations have already been taught to process information in this way rather than chronologically and in sequence. Our mobile devices are always on, interrupting us with notifications about what others are doing and saying. This forces us to embrace more multi-tasking, more fluidity in our daily activities.

However, multi-tasking is really only possible when two conditions are being met: 1) one of the tasks is so well-learned it is almost automatic and does not require thought or concentration, for example eating or walking and 2) the tasks involve different kinds of brain processing.⁠1 So, a good example of multi-tasking is reading a book whilst listening to classical music because reading comprehension and listening to music engage different parts of our brain. When you are using the same part of your brain to process information through your laptop, tablet or smart phone your ability to retain that information is actually declining significantly. Your ability to focus your attention is also reduced.

So what has all this got to do with integrity? Well, it’s become so acceptable now to cancel something at short notice or change arrangements that if you actually are consistent, keep your word and can be trusted to be on time, you stand out . Everything we do now is so much more transparent and visible. Integrity is like an inner guiding compass  and has an impact on how we behave and treat others. We are going through a period of intense change in probably every aspect of our lives – consistency, trust, values and honesty are like a harbour in the storm.

Integrity is valued by employers as a much sought trait in employees. In a more interconnected and sometimes virtual world it is likely to become an even more important future work skill as we collaborate across different cultures.

Behaviour integrity, the alignment between words and actions, impacts trust and results. One study found that “an improvement in only one-eighth of a point in the behaviourial integrity score of a hotel’s managers, led to a boost in hotel profits of as much as 2.4 percent of revenues”. When it came down to it, this small movement was down to the “little things” as in keeping a promise, sticking to an arrangement made, following through on something.

Tony Simon, the Cornell associate professor involved in that study says, “Behavioural integrity is not about some higher moral code. It is simply about having words and actions that reflect each other.” If this is so, then isn’t being late for something sending the wrong message completely? Isn’t our inability to really focus, really listen to each other actually saying that we really don’t care?

Leadership experts Dr Gay Hendricks and Dr Kate Ludeman say that ‘the mastery of integrity comes down to three things: being authentic with yourself, being authentic with others and doing the things you have said that you would do”. Maintaining authenticity is about self-awareness – knowing what you want out of life, who you are, what your positive characteristics are and your negative qualities and behaving consistently in line with your values.

Keeping commitments builds trust and in a perfect world we would not break them. But it’s become too easy to do just that as we hide behind technology.

If you absolutely do have to change an existing commitment, be open about it, state the problem, listen, get involvement and solve the issue by agreeing a new commitment or an alternative solution. Can you do that with your smartphone?

What would be the impact this week of focusing more, doing what we have said we’ll do, keeping our appointments, slowing down a little?  

1 Jim Taylor, Ph.D Clinical Associate Professer University of Denver

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Emma Sue Prince

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