Inspiration Ethics – The Value of Integrity

Integrity – Noun; Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code; the state of being unimpaired; soundness; the quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.

The date is January 16, 2009. The day after US Airways Flight 1549 pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger of Danville, CA, maneuvered his crowded passenger jet over New York City and ditched it in the Hudson River – successfully. All 155 passengers and crew are safe and miraculously escaped major injury – just bumps and bruises really. National media is abuzz with reports and first-hand interviews with passengers, now all safe, warm and dry, along with their rescuers and safety experts describing the ordeal. NBC dubbed the accident “Miracle on the Hudson”.

Pause now. Think about your values as if you had to list and describe them. What are your core values? If you are like most individuals and organizations Integrity shows up on your list of values. But what does it mean, this word, ‘integrity’ (perhaps the ultimate virtue)? What does it mean to you? How does your value for integrity show up for others daily? How is it you developed your integrity? How might you further develop this quality? Why does it matter?

For most of us, integrity means something like “doing what you say you will do”, or “how you act when no one is looking”. These are good tests of integrity, but don not really explain how one develops integrity. Structural integrity for a building is defined as “uncompromised ability to safely resist the required loads”. Structural integrity of a person could be defined as “uncompromised ability to appropriately resist challenges to virtue”. How do we develop this steadfast adherence to a strict moral code, this ‘sound’ response to difficult circumstances?

Like most things we do well, integrity comes from practice. In fact, the proper manner with which to refer to the quality of integrity as a human value would be “to practice integrity”. A person speaks and acts with integrity out of practice. Integrity is the result of preparation and choice, when one has lived long enough to have recognized one’s own innate capacity to act on whim, caprice or selfishness rather than deeply-held principle. Integrity comes from training and increases with the quality, length and adherence to the intent of that training. Integrity follows solid neural pathways, developed over time, that stimulate certain attitudes and habits, which produce seemingly instinctual right actions. But these actions are not based on animal instinct; right actions result from human desire and practice.

My favorite value-based definition of leadership is “authentic self-expression that adds value through relationships”. This includes relationships to both people and events. When self-expression begins to consistently add value over time, through every human encounter, through every decision and through every split-second reaction to events, then you have integrity.

Aspire to have integrity: practice discerning what is right, saying that you will do right, how and why you will do right, and doing so whether or not someone else is paying attention.

You can bet there are at least 154 people in this world who are thankful for the value Chesley Sullenberger has added through their brief relationships. What do “Sully” Sullenberger and Flight 1549 have to do with integrity? Sullenberger is reportedly an U.S. Air Force Academy grad who flew F-4 fighter planes in the 1970s while in the Air Force. He started flying commercial jets in the 1980s. “He is about performing that airplane to the exact precision to which it is made,” says the wife of her hero-husband. In addition to working for US Airways, he runs a safety consulting firm focused on the psychology of keeping airline crews functioning in the face of crisis. He has been an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. I understand he is also certified to fly gliders – skills that surely helped land an Airbus A320 with both engines on fire in a controlled descent on a nearly frozen river rather than in the middle of a neighborhood of one of the world’s most densely populated cities.

Instinct didn’t take over for Sullenberger as he steered his jet toward those icy Hudson waters, practice kicked in – the practice of integrity. This is a man who decided earlier in life that safety and human lives were important enough to him that he would dedicate himself to preserving those ends. He trained, he studied, he learned day after day, year after year with those ends in mind. What once began as a pilot’s tenuous first flight, over the course of 40 years of practice became unconscious competence – the right attitudes, habits, decisions, actions and demeanor to save lives in a crisis.

Reflections to inspire personal growth in Integrity (with your learning partner)

How would your life be different if you were to practice integrity with greater intent and consistency? What can you do daily to increase your integrity? What is your personal code of ethics; what must you change to demonstrate them more fully? Find an accountability partner or hire a coach to help you practice integrity and take these actions:

  • Integrity is the glue that binds your other virtues. What are your other core values? Why these?
  • How do these values, together, define who you are, how you think and act, and how you are viewed by others?
  • What words and behaviors do other people observe of you daily that demonstrate your values?
  • What purpose would you have your life lead toward that you are willing to practice day after day, year after year, to be prepared for the chance event that may provide the ultimate test of your Integrity?
  • What specific attitudes, habits and behaviors must you practice consistently to become the person of Integrity you aspire to be?
  • Describe an experience or event when you were at your personal best and demonstrated Integrity.
  • Describe a current situation in your life that, in your heart, you could apply the same level of Integrity as you did in your example above.
  • Make plans to touch base with your learning partner in the next month about how you each are practicing Integrity. Hold each other accountable.

Inspiration Ethics – The Value of Authenticity

AuthenticNoun; undisputed credibility; the quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine; worthy of trust, reliance or belief.

Ever heard these phrases? They all refer to authenticity.

  • Walk the talk.
  • Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
  • Be real.
  • Act on the courage of your convictions.

What is authenticity? When we think, say, feel and act in complete alignment. In other words, there is no difference between our beliefs and what we say. Our habits of thought match our habits of action. There is no difference between how we feel and what we do, between what we want and who we are. It means we’re whole, undivided, complete.

“…the first step toward becoming authentic is to be courageous. If we don’t have courage, we cannot be real. And being real, in turn, requires us to be brave enough to reveal, own, and often share our truth, our fears, our emotions, and our vulnerabilities. This is how we become authentic.” (Lance Secretan, “One: The Art and Practice of Conscious Leadership,” 2006, p. 81)

We often use the word “integrity” to describe the result of authenticity. The most common meaning of integrity is “steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.” But integrity also means “the state of being unimpaired; soundness,” and “the quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness”. (The American Heritage Dictionary) Authenticity leads us to our own ethical code; authenticity leads to integrity.

When you judge an object to be authentic, you determine it to be exactly what it claims to be. The same is true for people. For example, everyone has a relative who is “a little eccentric” yet very lovable. How is that? Chances are that wacky relative is so genuine you cannot help but appreciate him or her. What you see is what you get, and you love what you get from them (even if it’s a little weird!).

We need to be authentic because we love how authentic people touch our hearts and inspire us. “Authentic leaders have an air of transparency about them. And followers want conscious leaders who are clear about what they stand for, what their values are, and who live these values consistently. (Secretan, op. cit. p. 85)

Reflections to inspire personal growth in Authenticity (with your learning partner)

How would your life be different if you were more authentic? What can you do daily to increase your trustworthiness and integrity? What is your personal code of ethics; what must you change to demonstrate them more fully? Find an accountability partner or hire a coach to help to help you develop your authenticity and take these actions:

  • Describe one of the most Authentic moments in your life, when you were at your personal, authentic best.
  • Describe a current situation in your life that, in your heart, you could apply the same level of Courage and Authenticity as you did in your example above.
  • Make plans to touch base with your learning partner in the next month about how you each are growing in Authenticity. Hold each other to be accountable.

Inspiration Ethics – The Value of Courage

CourageNoun; conscious self-sacrifice in pursuit of something greater than one’s own self-interest.

People are basically goal-oriented, seeking to satisfy wants and needs. But when pain or fear or any trigger of avoidance intrude, it is difficult to follow desire with action — even if the goal is very important, the action critical and the rewards great. At these times, we need Courage. Courage is a learned thing, not borne into us but developed over time.

Whether you be man or woman you will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” — James Allen

We too often think of courage in modern life requiring unique heroism or call to duty on a grand scale, such as in situations of rescue and war. Of course, in war humans sometimes fight because they are embarrassed not to. For courage to be authentic, one must encounter fear and prove superior to the fear through right action.

Fear of what? Most directly, physical courage exists in the face of bodily harm or death. In other words, physical courage is demonstrated by acting regardless of fear for one’s life or livelihood. We need a different kind of courage than physical courage on a daily basis. Leadership character requires moral courage: to become a better leader; to stand up for what is right when we stand alone; to do what is right despite disapproval or negative peer pressure; or to take risks in our quest to achieve what is important. These take Courage — without it we go nowhere, accomplish little, lack meaning and regret much. Courage is the primer for any other virtue.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” — C.S. Lewis

Courage to act in our own story

The opportunity to develop Courage occurs in the mundane story of our daily living where even tiny seeds of fear exist, where the danger is loss of integrity. In business and in our everyday life, Courage is rarely impulsive but results from self-conditioning — a history of calculated bold moves based on firm convictions. The best leaders develop courage consciously, deliberately, over time, and it shows in their actions. A leader’s story is a story of courage.

“People who become good leaders have a greater than average willingness to make bold moves, but they strengthen their chances of success — and avoid career suicide — through careful deliberation and preparation. Business courage is not so much a visionary leader’s inborn characteristic as a skill acquired through decision-making processes that improve with practice.” — Kathleen K. Reardon, Courage as a Skill, Harvard Business Review, January 2007.

Virtue at a cost

Courage is not the only virtue. Courage begins things: it is a precursor for Faith, Love, Change, Persistence, Authenticity, Trust, Service and every other value. C. S. Lewis once said that the virtue of courage is a prerequisite for the practice of all other virtues. In other words, one is virtuous only when virtue has a cost, a price we are fearful to pay.

Without courage we do not get started on what is important; we do not take right action; we live in fear of the consequences of virtue. Every day we face decisions that begin, interrupt or sustain our courage-life pattern. Courage is your cupid’s arrow for everything you really want to have, to do, to create, or to become, no matter how mundane or how wonderful the rewards.

Courage can only exist through virtuous action. Another kind of courage is shown in a bad cause because it does not intend a moral effect and demonstrates vice over virtue. [Think of the 9/11 hijackers or any act of terrorism] More than any other human trait, courage seems to be quite capable to serve wrongdoing.

U.S. Senator John McCain said that “without courage we are corruptible.” Without courage we may be admirers but not champions of virtue and character. There are times when we recognize something needs to be done, and yet we know that if we step up to right action, we will pay a heavy personal price. Courage is the virtue that makes us willing to pay that price; cowardice makes us say, “The price is too high; I will not pay it. It is too hard. I will seek the easier, less costly choice.”

Remorse makes a dreadful companion. Anyone can learn to live with pain. Anyone can learn to live with fear, embarrassment, ridicule and separation. We can learn from failure. Yet nothing will divert your gaze into a mirror more quickly than shame. Remorse for inaction and regret for wrong action is more difficult to overcome; the cure for both is Courage. Courage leads to right action. Right action requires courage. It takes courage to admit a mistake, still more to make amends. No matter what the consequence of noble Courage, it is never worse than the discovery that you are less than you pretend to be.

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” — Helen Keller

Reflections to inspire personal growth in Courage (with your learning partner)

How would your life be different if you had more courage? What can you do daily to increase your courage? What is your personal code of ethics; what must you change to demonstrate them more fully? Find an accountability partner or hire a coach to help to help you develop your courage and take these actions:

  • What are some examples of Courage that I could demonstrate in my daily life at home and at work?
  • Courage is the form of every other virtue at the testing point. Courage requires a test of conviction. How would my life be different if, beginning today, I took the test daily?
  • What does the phrase mean, “Without courage we are corruptible?”
  • Think of a specific issue you face or a goal you want to achieve. What would be your cause and cost? What are the real or perceived risks? What might be keeping you from taking action?
  • Can you think of a time when you risked your own self-interest for something greater? What was it? How did you feel then? How has it shaped you?
  • The next opportunity I have to risk self-interest for something greater, will I recognize it? Will I be ready? How I you know?
  • Who do I “pretend” to be? What specific right actions will put me on the narrow path of integrity?
  • Is my remorse for non-action greater than my fear of consequence for action?