While applying for a position from a well-known marketing guru I look up to, I was asked to define "integrity"

I personally don't hear or encounter the word "integrity" often in real life so I don't have an exact definition. However, the times I've seen it used, it comes from sentences such as: "Ricky has high integrity."

What does integrity mean to you?

When I hear that used, what immediately comes to mind are:

  • trust
  • sticking to what you believe is right
  • dependable
  • good reputation

Before today, I hadn't thought about it much but, to me right now, someone with "integrity" means the following:

You may or may not like him but he has a certain standard he follows and he's proven it over time such that you almost expect him to never cross that line. You believe he won't to the point you trust him an in that way he becomes dependable.

There is no need to explicitly say, "don't do this, this, or that" nor cover every possible permutation. It's a given. So, the excuse, "You never told me THAT wasn't allowed" doesn't fly. This isn't like a contract where find a loophole and you're scott-free. This explains why someone with integrity who "crosses the line" deeply cuts another because you shake their truth, belief, and trust.

Given my definition, one can't claim, "I have integrity". It sounds weird and egotistical, almost like when a stranger says, "Hey, I'm a nice person. You can trust me" yet nobody inside fully believes him. Integrity can only be said of others after observing them for a long time. You're vouching for another so it doesn't make sense to use it on yourself. Thus, the only way to see if a person has integrity is seeking the people around him, outside of family ties. Are there people willing to speak for him?

Now that I think about it, this may be why I always hear that word in the context of someone describing someone else.

Integrity: Its misunderstood meaning in business

Tying this closer to a job, we know that under normal circumstances, a business is a black box to the public. An employee, though, is allowed passage and gets a true insider's look. He becomes aware of sensitive information he wouldn't know otherwise and has the potential to do incredible damage because of it. In this way, one with integrity won't "cross the line" and do anything to hurt the business. In fact, he's not even teetering the "line" but instead going the opposite direction.

Perhaps the best way to view this is like a marriage. Two strangers intimately coming together, learning each other's weak points and carrying enough ammo to hurt the other. The emphasis, however, isn't in avoiding the other's pain points but in healing them.

And the biggest lesson is that successful people seek to lean and rub shoulders with those that display these qualities. You may betray these principles and gain in the short term but your long term road will be difficult as no one will help you. Everything will have to come from you and you alone. Thus, your limited destiny becomes one of pity. And in some ways, because you know the outcome from the beginning, you simply reach your chosen destination.

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