It’s not uncommon to see “integrity” named as a specific core value on the list of core values of an organization or an individual. It could very well be the most common word to show-up on a list of core values. There may actually be a subconscious reason for that being the case!

As I find myself back in the midst of writing my third book (and the numerous discussions you engage-in as part of the process), I find myself not only looking deeply into the subject at hand, but also turning the subject in numerous ways to see it from every angle. It’s much like holding a prism and turning it to see each and every angle. This has been the case for me as I have continued to ponder the strategic potential core values hold, within, for every leader. As I continued to develop the concept and the content for ROI: Return on Integrity, it was “integrity” that came into full-view for me. Except, this time, it wasn’t so much about turning the topic from every angle.

It was about turning core values inside-out!

I was drawn to look … and then look again and again … at this issue of “integrity” for a variety of reasons. One reason being the mixed feelings and mixed messages that surface when a group of leaders are trying to decide whether to include “integrity” as a core value … or not. It always seems to make for an interesting discussion that sometimes goes in circles.

I personally was drawn into this kind of conversation when people would say … “I love the title of your upcoming book, ROI: Return on Integrity, but it’s a little confusing when you are doing a book on core values and the title uses the name of only one core value! Is the book on core values or integrity?” Each time I was asked this question, my answer became just a little more concise. Today, the answer to the question is very short.

It is simply … YES!

There is a reason why integrity feels like it needs to be on the list. It may explain why some leaders are more passionate to have it on the list than others. I certainly have no problem with it being on the list. It can serve as a great reminder there. The problem is … I have come to see and believe that “integrity” is not a core value.

Integrity is imbedded into the fabric of every core value!

Think of integrity as thread. The thread can be made of different substances. It could be cotton or silk or nylon. Perhaps it is wool or linen. It could be coarse or soft … thick or thin. It could become a shirt or pants or a scarf. Thread creates the fabric. Yet, no matter what the fabric is used to create … without the fabric the end product doesn’t exist. The quality of what is created fully depends on the quality of the fabric. And the fabric is only as good as the thread that makes it.

And so goes integrity. I think of author Warren Bennis as the grandfather of leadership books. During his days as a professor at USC, he was a pioneer on the topic of leadership. Early-on, he made a clear distinction between honesty and integrity. He said, “honesty is when someone asks you a question … and you tell them the truth!” He went-on to explain “integrity” through an acronym. He simply called is DWYSYWD (pronounced something like duh-wiz-a-wid!).

Do What You Say You Will Do!

A lot of people see honesty and integrity as one-in-the-same. That would be correct … because integrity is one-in-the-same with every single core value. It is the thread that makes each one of them possible. If you work with someone who only tells the truth some of the time, you likely don’t consider honesty to be one of their core values. Even the most dishonest person tells the truth some of the time! The value of honesty doesn’t come in being honest some of the time … the value is in the consistency of all of the time. It is in doing what we say we will do!

Integrity is not about naming a value … it’s about actually living each of the values we have named. Integrity is about integration. It is the thread that weaves the values we have named into every relationship, every meeting, every conversation, every initiative, every measurement, every reward … everything! Integrity is what makes each individual value and the collective nature of those values that we espouse … actually valuable. Without integrity, there are no core values.

Integrity is not only about integration within our work, but also integration throughout our life. It’s what weaves our core values through all the arenas of our life. We only have one core … and as we go … so it goes!

If an organization or an individual wants to put integrity on their list of core values … great! It’s just important to remember the value of integrity doesn’t stand on its own. The value of integrity is weaved throughout.

And any core value, without it, isn’t a core value at all.

Today’s post is the featured article from the February 2014 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.