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West Point’s Answer To Loyalty versus Integrity

Loyalty or Integrity? We are all vulnerable to this trap.

Loyalty and Integrity are two character traits I think we all desire in ourselves and in others. I like loyal people. They are friends and co-workers I know I can depend on. It does not matter how bad the situation may be. I know I can count on the loyal people in my life.

I like people of Integrity as well. I like knowing I never have to question their words, actions, or motives. What you see is what you get. Their Integrity makes trusting them easy.

But should loyalty ever trump Integrity? Is there a time when that is appropriate?

Intellectually, most of us would argue that Integrity should always come first. Unfortunately that does not always happen. Here is a short list of when people put loyalty before Integrity:

When Loyalty Has Trumped Integrity

Loyalty To Individuals

● Previously honorable Germans who’s allegiance to Hitler allowed him to slaughter millions.

● Charles Colson and other aides to Richard Nixon as they manipulated the 1972 election resulting in Watergate.

Loyalty To Institutions

● Politicians when they use half-truths and attack opponents in order to win public support for their policies.

● Professors, coaches and players at schools when athletes take fake classes to help GPA’s.

The list above is short, and I am sure some people think I am being overly dramatic. But, let’s look at when we might be tempted to put loyalty before our Integrity.

Loyalty’s Temptations

● When we see a friend cheating on a test in high school or college.

● When a work friend asks us to omit some details in a report that make him look bad.

● When our child asks us not to tell our spouse about something they did.

● When our best friend asks us to be silent about his mistress.

● When our spouse wants to avoid reporting some income to the IRS.

It is easy in a blog post to say I would never succumb to any of these temptations. But, I have. Unfortunately, I am not alone. Many people have let loyalty take the lead over Integrity.

Integrity Stands Above Loyalty

In a world full of things we cannot control, our Integrity is one of the few things we have 100% control over. We always have a choice.

The choices are not easy. But there is always a choiceDefend our Integrity or sacrifice it.

The Cadet Honor Code at West Point states:

A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal nor tolerate those who do.

The clause on toleration is a direct reflection on how strong a pull loyalty is. At West Point, Integrity was to stand above loyalty. If I chose loyalty above Integrity, and did not turn in a friend who cheated on a test, I was just as guilty as he was.

Any cadet who chooses loyalty to a friend over Integrity faced expulsion along with his cheating friend. For many cadets, this lesson was the hardest to implement.

The Bottom Line:

For most West Point graduates, that lesson in loyalty and toleration was a defining one in the honing of our character. It was a difficult pill to swallow then, and it still is to this day.

Unfortunately, some West Point graduates, including me, have allowed loyalty to trump Integrity.

The lesson in those cases is – we are all vulnerable to this trap.

Integrity stands above loyalty when it comes to essential character traits for all of us. We have to recognize the damage we do to our character whenever we allow loyalty to be our #1 priority.

The question we must all ask ourselves when we are tempted to put loyalty first is:

“How much do I value the most important and most controllable thing in my life?”


Do you think there is ever a time loyalty should trump Integrity?


Here is a quick assessment that will take you 5 minutes to figure it out. Nobody will ever see your results but you.

Warning: If you are not going to be honest with yourself this is a worthless assessment.

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