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On Integrity

In "On Determination," I wrote that our determination to fulfill our commitments both reveals and tests our character. I went on to state that our character is really all we have to offer our donors. It got me to thinking more about character. One meaning is moral constitution; another is reputation.

Obviously, our reputation is closely tied to our moral values. That led me to think of integrity. It is a complex word as denoted in its definition: the quality of wholeness and of being of sound moral principle, uprightness, honesty and sincerity. There is much meaning packed into those few words. They speak to the expectations our donors have of us.

You probably have been in workshops or meetings where you have been asked to list the essential qualities of a successful development professional. Through consensus the quality of integrity usually is ranked first. Subsequent discussion of integrity typically centers on the trait of honesty. Certainly our donors have the right to presume our honesty. The "Donor Bill of Rights" underscores their right to "truthful and forthright answers."

Honesty only scratches the surface though. Let’s look at another meaning of integrity: sincerity. We can all agree that sincerity is a quality important to our donors also. However, most people have a healthy skepticism of sincerity. Sincerity is too easy to evince, at least in the short term. It reminds me of the words of writer and lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, as attributed to him by his biographer, James Boswell, in Tour to the Hebrides: "Sir, are you so grossly ignorant of human nature, as not to know that a man may be very sincere in good principles, without having good practice?"

In the development profession, we always say that people give to people, not to institutions. We represent our institutions; we personify them. While our donors are giving to further the missions of our institutions, we are the moving agents. It is our integrity, our "good practice," that forms the basis of these relationships.

Why is it that our donors come to trust us? I believe it is the quality of transparency or, as Stephen Covey describes it in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, "inside-out congruence, from living a life of integrity in which our daily habits reflect our deepest values." When the inside of a person matches the outside, we are able to entrust ourselves to him or her. We are convinced that their values are consistent with our own. There is no unknown to fear; nothing is hidden; we are transparent. There is no deceit, only openness and honesty. What you see is what you get.

In a recent planning session, our staff discussed trust and trustworthiness. We concluded these are not qualities we can espouse about ourselves. They are attributes that mean nothing, unless acknowledged of us by others. Trust is to be earned; we cannot proclaim it. It is not enough to simply say, "trust me."

Covey claims that the principles of integrity and honesty are "the foundation of trust which is essential to cooperation and long-term personal and interpersonal growth." He goes on to explain, "Integrity in an interdependent reality is simply this: you treat everyone by the same set of principles. As you do, people will come to trust you."

This takes us back to the definition of integrity: the quality of being of sound moral principle. What are your principles? Are they evident to your donors?

It is no small matter to examine and articulate our principles. It requires self-awareness and personal integrity. As Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." James Kouzes and Barry Posner in The Leadership Challenge state that, "Such personal searching is essential in the development of leaders. You can’t elevate others to higher purposes until you’ve first elevated yourself."

They explain further, "When you clarify the principles that will govern your life and the ends that you will seek, you give purpose to your daily decisions. A personal creed gives you a point of reference for navigating the sometimes-stormy seas of organizational life. Without a set of such beliefs, your life has no rudder, and you’re easily blown about by the winds of fashion. A credo to guide you prevents confusion on the journey.

"The internal resolution of competing beliefs also leads to personal integrity, which is essential to believability. A leader with integrity has one self, at home and at work, with family and colleagues. Such a leader has a unifying set of values that guide choices of action regardless of the situation."

Which brings us to the final component of the definition of integrity: the quality of being complete or whole. Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson delineated the stages of identity in the life cycle of the healthy personality. The ultimate or end stage is integrity. He postulated that, "Ego integrity, therefore, implies an emotional integration which permits participation by followership as well as acceptance of the responsibility of leadership: both must be learned and practiced in religion and politics, in the economic order and in technology, in aristocratic living, and in the arts and sciences." It is in these areas, therefore, where we must seek to define our principles.

Covey believes that "a life of integrity is the most fundamental source of personal worth." He defines integrity "as the value we place on ourselves." He tells us that, "As we clearly identify our values and proactively organize and execute around those values on a daily basis, we develop self-awareness and independent will by making and keeping meaningful promises and commitments . . . This requires an integrated character, a oneness, primarily with self but also with life."

This is what our donors are looking for in us. As Covey says, "Integrity includes but goes beyond honesty. Honesty is telling the truth — in other words, conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words — in other words, keeping promises and fulfilling expectations."

In First Things First, Covey writes, "The essence of principle-centered living is making the commitment to listen to and live by conscience." It requires us to know and stand up for what we believe. Covey warns that people "may not at first appreciate the honest confrontational experiences such integrity might generate. Confrontation takes considerable courage, and many people would prefer to take the course of least resistance....But in the long run, people will trust and respect you if you are honest and open and kind with them. You care enough to confront. And to be trusted, it is said, is greater than to be loved. In the long run, I am convinced, to be trusted will be also to be loved."

Psychoanalyst Theodore Reik wrote in The Need to Be Loved, "To gratify the need to be loved is part of that pursuit of happiness in which we all are engaged." To be loved is a universal need. We need to be loved; our donors need to be loved. There is our challenge as development professionals: to love and be loved. To do so requires us to be persons of integrity. The rewards are well worth the effort.

Suggested readings:

Covey, Stephen, First Things First, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994.

Covey, Stephen, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1989.

Erikson, Erik, Identity and the Life Cycle, International Universities Press, New York, 1959.

Kouzes, James and Posner, Barry, The Leadership Challenge, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 1995.

Reik, Theodore, The Need to Be Loved, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 1963.

Michael R. Maude, ACFRE, FAHP
Partners In Philanthropy

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