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Three Steps to Building Teams of Integrity

Situational Integrity is not Integrity.

We had the word Integrity on the walls in all our meeting rooms. It was one of our team values. We even spent time at the beginning of meetings discussing each of the values and how we needed to embody each of those values. But there was a problem – me.

The way I operated on a day-to-day basis, both inside and outside of work, did not live up to the standard of Integrity we claimed to live by as a team. The individuals on our team were good, hard working people. They truly wanted to be part of a team that lived by those values. Unfortunately, as the leader of that team, I consistently compromised my Integrity based on the situation.

Situational Integrity is not Integrity. I knew what the right thing to do was in 99% of the situations. The problem was that I was too willing to rationalize and blur the lines. As the leader of that team, that created uncertainty and destroyed their confidence in me. My inconsistency in applying Integrity to my actions and my words hurt our team.

There are three critical steps to exercising Integrity: Know – Do – Say.

  1. Know: What’s the good, right, and proper thing to do.

  2. Do: Acting on what we know is right, even at personal or professional cost.

  3. Say: Speaking out on why we made the decision to do the right thing.

Know: I knew and our team knew what was the right thing to do. That was not the problem.

Do: Too often, I did not do the right thing because I thought it might hurt our business. I looked for ways to blur the lines between right and wrong. I looked for loopholes in policies and found justifications for my actions. As a result, many people on the team followed my lead.

Say: At other times, I was conspicuously silent. I would say nothing and therefore condone behaviors that went against what I knew we should be doing. I stayed quiet because I did not want to make waves, or I felt hypocritical if I suddenly started speaking out.

How many teams have you been a part of where the leader gave lip service to Integrity but their behaviors or even their silence created an environment of situational Integrity?

Looking back at my leadership, I see my failures and realize I am not alone. I’ve seen it in leaders in nonprofits. I’ve seen it in leaders in the public sector. I’ve seen it in the leaders of large and small businesses. They know the difference between right and wrong. But when it comes to the DO or the SAY steps, they fail like I did – and their teams do not respect them.

If we have been on the wrong path; if we have been justifying away our Integrity – the best time to change our behavior and change our team is right now. But how?

  1. Know: What’s the good, right and proper thing to do.

    1. Use the Three Rules of Thumb to guide our decisions. Read about them here.

  2. Do: Acting on what we know is right, even at personal or professional cost.

    1. Make the difficult choice the next time we are tested. Each time we make a choice, it makes it easier to make the same choice again.

  3. Say: Speaking out on why we made the decision to do the right thing.

    1. Apologize to the team for our past choices and tell them why we are making changes. Silent Integrity is lacking. Always reinforce our positive choices by stating why we are choosing the right thing this time.

As leaders, our team’s Integrity is a direct reflection on who we are. The culture of a team is a direct reflection of the leader. Our best people care about doing the right thing. But when we are hypocritical in our actions or our words – the team loses respect for us.

On the other hand, if the leader consistently exercises Integrity using the three steps – Know, Do, Say – they will begin to build a team of Integrity. But, it all starts with the leader.

“The fastest way to change a team is to change the leader.” – Earl Nightingale

Dig Deep Questions:

● What’s the most difficult Integrity step for you – Know, Do, or Say?

● What will be the impact on your team if you make different choices?


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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