Toastmasters has four core values, and the first is integrity. When I ran for Second Vice President, I had a quote on my website that said, “Integrity is like authority. If you have to tell other people you have it, you probably don’t.” The U.S. investor Warren Buffett, a keen observer of human behavior, says he looks for three things in a person: “Intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.”
What is integrity? A well-known definition is “doing the right thing when no one else is watching.” Personally, I find this definition to be at an intermediate level. It has a lot of truth, but I think the meaning goes deeper. In my experience, integrity starts from within. It is when your thoughts and actions are aligned, and your decisions are based on your values instead of personal gain.
On June 24, 2021, the world saw an unforgettable example of what happens when integrity is forgotten. A residential building, one of the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida (a suburb of Miami), had collapsed and 98 people lost their lives. Over the next few weeks, there was much speculation as to what had caused the collapse.
Integrity is when your thoughts and actions are aligned, and your decisions are based on your values.
The investigation found three significant contributing factors to the collapse. The first was a design flaw. The second was water intrusion, specifically a combination of rainwater and saltwater. (As those who live near a saltwater coast have experienced, saltwater corrosion is extremely damaging to both metals and concrete.) The third and most tragic factor was neglect. In this case, the board of directors of the condo association was aware of the issues, knew what it would take to resolve the issues, and failed to do so.
This example is a massive breach of integrity. However, don’t we as humans all have habits that undermine our effectiveness as a leader? How often do we allow our thoughts and other people’s voices to convince us to act out of alignment with our values? When we fall out of integrity, which we all do, do we take the effort to acknowledge what occurred and take the action to restore our integrity?
When your thoughts and actions are aligned with your values, and those of the organization you represent; when you ignore the voices that tempt you to fall out of that alignment; and when you take the necessary steps to address it when you do err—then you are acting with integrity … and no one will question what you stand for.
Matt Kinsey, DTM
Matt Kinsey, DTM is the 2022—2023 International President of Toastmasters International. Learn more about him on the Board of Directors page.