Reader Edward said something provocative on Attitude in a “crappy job market”:

It’s actually fairly easy to check for integrity, if you first know what it is.

Well, what is it?

I think I’ve got the start of a useful definition and I’ve used it pretty successfully, though I think it needs to be fleshed out more: A thing (or person) has integrity when its form and behavior are consistent with the way it represents itself, and when it performs as promised.

Okay, it’s not a definition of integrity. It’s more of a sign of integrity. I have intentionally not checked a dictionary because I think it’s important to figure out what we think it means. So please leave your dictionaries closed for now — we can open them later.

What is integrity to you?


  1. Nick,

    Overall, you nailed it right here, integrity is “A thing (or person) has integrity when its form and behavior are consistent with the way it represents itself, and when it performs as promised.”

    I say it in one word…Quality.

  2. @Nic: Aw, you gave it away right off the bat! ;-) My compliments! Integrity is quality, and this connection is explained better nowhere than in Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (really):

    Some might find that to be an odd or daunting book, but if you take time and pay attention, the book pays off in spades. The insights are startling and powerful.

  3. Walk the talk. Tell bosses & customers what they need to know and/or do, even if it’s not what they want to hear. Be tactful, but never let tact degenerate into obsequiousness.
    If you respect yourself and your abilities, don’t let anyone else question them.

  4. I think a good sign of integrity in the job search arena is when a candidate tells you he/she *doesn’t* know something. Although I work in sales, the phrase I hate the most is, “Yeah, we can do that.” I had to deal with salespeople saying that when I was on the tech support side. It takes integrity to say, “No, we don’t do that” or “No, that’s not our area of expertise; you might want to look elsewhere.”

    Anyone can promise the moon in a job interview. It takes integrity to say, “Well, no, I don’t have experience with that.” People are often taught to wiggle around lack of experience with this software package or that technology or this market. A good employer will spot talent and integrity and realize that a software package, a technology, or a market can be learned. Talent and integrity cannot be learned in as simple a way.

  5. Re Chris’s post: I know an IT director who grills prospective hires with technical questions. It’s OK if the applicant doesn’t know all the answers, but if he can’t admit this (and is caught) he’s shown the door.

  6. It is often enlightening to look at other forms of a word for insight as to meaning. The word ‘integral’ means something like ‘essential to the completeness of some greater whole’ (No, Mr. C I didn’t consult Webster’s!). This implies the consistency of the original definition, the honesty of the other Chris’ post, and the crucial importance of integrity in human relations. And the honesty is first and foremost with oneself; that makes it so much easier to be honest with everyone else.

  7. In ancient Rome, the architect would stand underneath a bridge or an arch when it was tested for structural flaws.

    “The root of integrity is from the Latin word integritatem, meaning ‘soundness’ or ‘wholeness.’ In 1450, the French took that root a step farther and coined the word integrite, which meant to them not just to be whole, but to be “in perfect condition.”


  8. @Steve Amoia: What you suggest dovetails with Nic’s one-word definition: Quality.

  9. “…and when it performs as promised…”
    How’s this: In the job search arena, when people go on interviews and never hear back one way or the other from a company. Talk about lack of integrity. I hear from so many people who have been burned this way…really sucks.

  10. Integrity is:

    – Following up when you say you will
    – Following through on what you said you’d do
    – Being open and honest in all communications with customers, subordinates, and superiors
    – Following the spirit of the law not letter
    – Admitting to a mistake and then taking responsibility for it.
    – Giving credit to all participants and not taking it just for yourself

    It is not:
    – Quality because you can have poor quality but still have integrity, yes we built a crappy product but these are the steps we’re taking to fix it — AND THEN DO IT
    – Found in most companies because hiding the truth if it makes money is more important, or hiding the truth if it protects your position within the company is more important
    – Lacking in most big financial institution CEOS — Ken Lay, Ken Lewis, John Thain, and the list goes on…

  11. I think Steve Amoia was onto something but missed the point of the arcitecture. Furniture builders assess their product for integrity. What they really want to know is will it hold up under pressure? Is it going to survive is someone sits on it? Stands on it? Leans over in it? We can all have what we think is integrity but when we have no job and are in danger of loosing our house and can’t feed our family, will we compromise those values we said were so important? Which leads to the next question for me: Can everyone afford to have integrity?

  12. I echo all the above, but worry that not enough has been said about ethical aspects – doing unto others, doing no harm, not exploiting, advocacy…

    As far as the question “Can everyone afford to have integrity?” there have been times in my life when that was all I had and I am gratful I didn’t lose it.

    By the way, I have read Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance every decade since my twenties, I just turned 50 last year so I’m due again.

  13. Sara:

    My point was that in Ancient Rome, the architect would stand underneath the arch because if it failed testing, it would be the last structure that he ever inspected. :-)

    Standing behind one’s work. Or in this example, underneath it.

    I agree with Suzanne. Integrity doesn’t have a price.