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How Do We Coach Integrity?

We can’t set up enough rules to prevent people from making poor choices.

“You can’t coach Integrity!” said the police lieutenant. I’ve now worked with thousands of law enforcement professionals. And I have heard that statement before. Many people believe someone has Integrity or they don’t. But Integrity is a learned behavior. It is a habit that is formed through our choices. Each time we make a choice, it becomes easier to make that same choice again.

As leaders, it is our Duty – our moral obligation – to prepare the people we lead to make wise choices. Too many leaders believe that if they have good rules or policies, then they have done enough to insure the Integrity of their teams. But that has never been the case.

We can’t set up enough rules to prevent people from making poor choices. If that were true, we would not be writing ever expanding policy and procedure manuals. With each new edition, there are new rules. Ask yourself this, “When was the last time you saw the new edition of a policy manual get smaller?” The answer is: Rarely - if ever!

Coach Mike Krzyzewski famously said, “Rules are no substitute for character.”

Here is the problem and the calling for all leaders - we need to coach people to obtain higher levels of Integrity. Too often our coaching is focused on developing someone’s technical skills, and we ignore the development of their ability to make wise decisions.

Each time someone is faced with an Integrity dilemma, has their leader prepared them for making the wise choice? The better we prepare them, the fewer new rules we need to write. After all, new rules are usually a response to somebody making a poor choice.

What can a leader do when they are coaching someone at work or at home? It starts by getting that person to think about what Integrity means and how it impacts their lives. We could ask:

  • What does Integrity mean to you?

  • To whom do you make promises?

  • What happens when you don’t follow through?

  • How does that lack of follow through affect that relationship?

  • What happens when you do follow through?

The small choices somebody makes sets them up for the bigger choices they will face in the future. Integrity is a muscle that is developed in those small tests so we are strong enough to perform well when the big tests come. There are no small tests to our Integrity. They are all big tests, and a leader’s Duty is to do everything we can to prepare others to pass those tests.

Hoping we have written enough rules, or hoping our people are prepared to make wise choices when the rules are not obvious, is not a wise strategy. We must prepare them for those decisions. That is why leaders are held responsible for the bad actions of the people they lead: because it is the leader’s moral obligation to do everything in his or her power to prepare the individuals on the team or in their agency to make wise decisions. If those people are unprepared, it is the leader’s responsibility.

Dig Deep Questions:

  • Is it fair to hold a leader accountable for the actions of people on their team?

  • What are ways we can prepare our own teams so they make wise decisions?


It is important to us for you to have an opportunity to exercise Integrity, not only individually, but together as a team. This is why we have created practice cards with scenarios. We invite you to discuss as a team what it means to exercise Integrity via our Coaching Cards.

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