Integrity: The Single Most Important Quality in Business & Life

When asked, “What is the most important quality you want to find in another person?” You may first consider the context. Is this someone you’re doing business with, working for, married to, or following under their leadership? It would appear that depending upon your relationship with a person, your view of their most important quality could change. But what if you had to pick just one quality that spans across every type of relationship – yet proves to be equally important in every instance? Is picking just one even possible? More than possible, can it truly be the most important quality in every context? In pondering these very thoughts myself, I’ve landed on the conclusion that there is one thing that is the most important quality someone can possess, no matter who they are or the role in which they serve.

And that one thing is integrity. 

We’ve all heard the common and cute phrases like “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” (C.S. Lewis) Or “Integrity. The choice between what’s convenient and what’s right.” (Tony Dungy) There are so many more that are well deserving of a wall poster, screensaver, or wrist tattoo, but do we fully understand the meaning of the word and its implications?

Integrity does not mean being perfect, always making the right decisions, or never exhibiting a weakness. It means being honest, real, and authentic, especially when we make a wrong decision or show weakness in our actions. Who do you know that you would say embodies integrity? Chances are, we’ve all come across someone like this. Maybe you’re even lucky enough to be someone like this. As I was reflecting upon the single most important quality a “successful” business person – or really any person – should possess, this word commanded my focus and all others paled in comparison.

The way I see it is that when you have integrity, every other quality is amplified that much more. But without it, even having every other quality combined will still never be enough to compensate for a lack of integrity. Picture this. You’re intelligent, ambitious, well-spoken, and courageous. These are wonderful qualities! But if they’re not paired with integrity, let’s see how they really stack up…

Intelligence…but without integrity.

Knowledge is power. So imagine someone having such power but lacking the integrity to use it for good. You could argue that often people do choose to use their intelligence to help others and benefit the greater population. I would agree. But there are certainly instances where this is not true, and those tend to cause the biggest ripples and make the biggest news stories. When intelligent humans are guided by a moral compass of integrity to do the right thing, correct mistakes, and take responsibility for their actions, the knowledge they possess grows in value tenfold.

Ambition…but without integrity.

An ambitious and energetic person is someone we may look at in awe and wish to have an ounce of their enthusiasm for the work we must get done each day. They seem to be the people who wake up with a natural boost of caffeine running through their veins before we can even pour our first mug. But without integrity guiding this ambition, we would all just be spinning our wheels in any new direction our mind wanders. Integrity ensures that we stay on the path forward – the path leading to real progress that makes a positive difference in the lives of others. Aside from merely being scattered in our thoughts and action, ambition without integrity may also cause us to make choices that are self-serving. Is it the ambition to gain power or notoriety? Is it the ambition to feel as though we’re better than someone else? It’s human nature to veer in these directions when not guided by integrity which tells us these goals are fleeting and empty.

Well-spoken…but without integrity.

History is filled with many great orators. And you don’t need to make history books to have the talent of being well-spoken (or well-written). So many people in this world have the gift of inspiring others through their words, and those who combine this quality with integrity hold the key to Pandora’s box of public influence. Well-spoken individuals of high integrity have been responsible for some of the most radical and positive changes in our world. Consider Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham, any number of presidents and political leaders, and the like. Now imagine each of their agendas lacking integrity. How might their talents have fallen short of their greater purpose if they had lacked the guidance of truth and authenticity? In fact, a well-spoken and convincing individual can be downright dangerous if they lack integrity. Yet when these two qualities work in unison, being well-spoken and guided by integrity has produced some of the greatest leaders of our time.

Courage…but without integrity. 

What does it look like to have courage but to lack integrity? Well, it looks like someone who is willing to fight foolishly for selfish motives. You may have the courage to take something you did not rightfully earn, or guide someone into a decision that is not in their best interest. But when courage is combined with integrity, the mental and physical strength to overcome obstacles can be applied to solving problems and finding solutions that serve a greater purpose, save lives, make people happier, and make you happier as a result. There is no downfall to being both courageous and of high integrity. You are not any weaker for showing integrity when you decide how and when to be courageous. It’s rather the opposite. You are all the more courageous for refusing bad choices and awaiting good ones, even if it comes at a perceived risk.

Even these outstanding qualities that we’d be all quick to list on our resume and demonstrate in a conversation with someone whom we’re trying to impress, fall short if not paired with integrity. So really, integrity is the glue that binds together and places a shining gleam on the surface of every other good quality we may possess, both in business and in life. Today, consider looking within to assess your own level of integrity. Foremost, do you know what to look for? And when tested with the scenario of “no one else is watching” would you still choose to do the right thing, every time, even if you knew there was no chance of being caught or repercussion of doing whatever you please? It’s a hard question to answer! If it’s not, maybe you’re not giving the concept of integrity enough weight. It’s not easy to be a human of high integrity, but as I hope these ponderings have proven, the reward for living a life of integrity is a deeply rooted feeling of contentment and happiness in everything you do.

Do you agree? Or is there another quality you’d argue is even more important than integrity – if you were only able to choose one? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment below!

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