As presented in Part 1 of this blog, Integrity remains a messy issue to address in organizational life. These times of volatile change demand the stability and consistency of systems and people with integrity. And yet, the way we view integrity, makes it complicated to address.

This two-part blog revisits integrity. In the last blog, we explored it as a function of our word. I asked that we consider this question: What’s our word worth? I examined how we can view integrity from a different paradigm: from the background that our word matters, in the context of workability, and structured as whole and complete, as presented in this grid.

In this blog, I examine seven blind spots of integrity. Together, these two blogs present practices in a framework to strengthen our integrity.

(NOTE: These paradigms were distinguished via research by Erhard, Jensen, and Zaffron and sources shared at the end of this blog. Other items in this blog note research from this page with a number).

Being Complete: Freedom vs. Finished

Given our definition of Integrity as whole and complete, let’s examine this idea of being complete (see 3a).

Normally we think that being complete means being finished or being at the end of something. Being complete, however, is a state of mind, and is available all along the way, in any situation. Consider this set of heuristics:

  • Being complete is accepting what is and what is not: who one is and who one is not.
  • Completion means having no impediment to empower or being empowered.
  • Whatever you can’t hear or can’t listen to, remains incomplete.
  • Whatever is in the way of total honor and dignity between you and another human being, remains incomplete.
  • Completion leads to being whole.

In this sense, completion is more akin to freedom than finished. Whether finished or not, you are not complete with anything you can’t allow to be just the way it is.

Incomplete leads to Completion

In our work, much of our practice for being complete leads us to examine items that are incomplete in our lives (see 3a). Fundamentally, we discover where incomplete items exist to complete them and to expand “freedom” that is at the heart of our aliveness.

To be incomplete about a person, situation or experience means that it remains a concern or “pull on your mind.”

  • That remark your aunt made about looking a little heavy (that you laughed off rather than express what was on your mind).
  • The love of your life leaving you suddenly and couldn’t hear your love.
  • The dent in your car that you’ve been meaning to get fixed as soon as
  • The college degree you stopped short of getting.

These are examples of things you may be incomplete about. Consider such incompletions are like holes in the water glass of life. Until these holes are filled (completed), one can never have enough water to keep their glass full.

We are concerned with “incomplete” items as they are left unresolved and remain on our minds. The impact can be profound: one can never have enough attention to be fully present as these incomplete items remain concerns on our mind (see 3a).

When we are incomplete with items, we begin to tolerate being incomplete for ourselves and from others. We also settle for less — most damaging is we begin settling for less from ourselves. This results in a loss of dignity and can cause soul-crushing repercussions and realizations.

“In a world where actions speak louder

than words, talk is cheap.”

We define integrity as whole and complete (see 1). It is important to gain competency in completing items. We clean up unresolved items. Instead of tolerating unexpressed concerns or lingering worries on our mind, we create agreements, express our concerns, or restore our word with others. We become mindful of promises we’ve made to manage our lives.

Blind Spots of Integrity

Our view of integrity rests on conditions for workability — not ethics, morals, or virtues — to restore our word. Restoring our word creates the workability in our lives to build trust, form agreements, and support our relationships (see 1, 5c, and 6).

Consider this: In a world where actions speak louder than words, talk is cheap.

Keeping our word is challenging work, but it becomes easier when we recognize several blind spots of integrity (see 6). Based on my work and research with students and clients – on keeping and honoring our word – I find dealing with these seven blind spots can build competency in strengthening our word.

1. Virtue and Perfection: We conflate integrity with virtue and the notion of completion with perfection. This presents a host of problems, most of which find us viewing integrity and completion personally:

—Conflating virtue with integrity will close off any possibility of communication when we break our word and mask any incomplete item we may tolerate.

—Perfection also personalizes the notion of integrity (being whole and complete) by projecting an “ideal” self. This causes us to live life by avoiding mistakes or acknowledging gaps — all to preserve that “ideal” self. Can you see the lack of freedom that imposes on us? The most profound learning for humans happens in the gap between the actual and the aspirational. When we freely explore that gap, we can become more fully human. Perfection forecloses that possibility.

—Perfection v. Possibility. Perfection also operates from a different, “normative” paradigm:

  • If we view life through a normative lens, we concern ourselves with what’s wrong and how to fix it to be “ideal.” To be perfect means that problems should not exist, so we avoid or deny them or seek out prescriptions to fix them.
  • If we consider a descriptive view, we are concerned with what’s missing or essential to bring forth a designated possibility and how to create it. Problems are seen as inevitable and universal, so we invent possibilities.

2. FEAR of Observing You have a Weak Word

— When maintaining integrity is wrapped up in virtue or perfection, it becomes a matter of our identity. We cannot see or acknowledge when we are not going to keep our word or clean up any related mess or impact. The possibility of being out of integrity is such a threat to our identity that we avoid it (like it was when you were a child) rather than accept the challenge of dealing with it (see 6).

— When we fail at keeping our word, most of us fear the possibility of looking bad and losing power and respect. We choose the apparent short-term gain of avoiding this fear by stepping over items, not holding others accountable, or hiding that we cannot or will not keep our word. We choose to look good, which often has us look bad.

— This fear blinds us to the dignity that accrues from the possibility of “honoring” our word, which often entails not keeping one’s word with integrity (see last blog on Integrity, Part 1). See Blind Spot #7.

3. Not Organized to Honor Your Word.

In strengthening our word, an area to look at is our organization.

— Consider that often we may be unable to keep or honor our word because we lack information to complete tasks or to uphold agreements.

— Consider that we are organized for many reasons: to be neat, for aesthetics, for ease and comfort. An upgrade here may require this intention: to be organized for workability.

— This supports the ability to coordinate action with others. I can get my hands on what I need when I need it — to deliver on my word.

4. That Your Word is NOT YOU.

The denial or avoidance here is problematic. This blind spot deceives us into believing that what we say is divorced from who we are. Accepting that you are your word is challenging and will expand your view of yourself as a co-creator of your reality.

Being a co-creator lies in the following precepts to remind yourself: that I WILL …

  • Do what I said I would do.
  • Do what is expected of me by those with whom I have agreements and wish to have a workable relationship.
  • Do what I say is so because I said so.
  • Stand for what I say I stand for.

5. Not Grounded in Time.

Factors 3 and 4 above further enable this blind spot. What’s at stake here is that we separate these three interrelated activities: the way we think, speak and deliver our word. Time, however, reveals these gaps. Consider …

— How do we DELIVER on our word or follow through on items or projects? For instance, when I sign agreements do I act on promises, payments, or activities in a timely manner? Do I deliver on promises to colleagues on time? Do I respond to requests or offers when I said or in a timely manner? All these situations require honoring time as in deadlines, timeframes, predictions, or expectations.

— How do we LIVE our word in the present moment? Do we act in ways that demonstrate our espoused intentions, values, or declarations to ourselves and others? How do I show up for meetings, calls, or conversations? Am I on time, and ready to contribute? Do I show up as the person I’ve declared myself to be?

— Time REVEALS Awareness. This may seem backward. Most of us are concerned about our awareness of time, but what if time itself reveals our awareness of our self and our choices?

  • Cognitive dissonance will find us thinking one thing, saying another thing, and doing something else altogether. This is the actual definition of out of integrity – not being whole and complete.
  • Using time as an objective measure of our word (through calendars or other scheduling systems) reveals our intentions, choices (who we are as a chooser), and our agreements.
  • Given our 24-hour day, how we show up is less about that 24-hour period than revealing the choices made during that period. These choices can lead to broken agreements and incomplete items. (see blog: The practice of choosing wisely.)
  • In essence, “Time” will reveal the gap in awareness between our intentions, actions, and agreements.

6. Not willing to Break my Word (that integrity equals keeping my word).

This blind spot may seem off for strengthening our word. It is similar to #2 (see 6).

— Here, we explore competency with breaking our word. At some point, we’ve judged this as inappropriate for ourselves and also set this standard for others. We deny or avoid it when we must break our word. Given the state of uncertainty and our human nature, we can expect that leaders who are creating unpredictable futures will break their word (will not be able to keep it) because they must operate in the unknown.

  • When we seek only to keep our word, we will either feel trapped into keeping our word in the face of changing conditions; or, we will avoid the risk and uncertainty that may cause us to break our word. Both options leave us fixed, rigid and constrained because we believe we can never break our word.
  • Here’s the paradox – leaders that never break their word are playing a comfortable game, advancing a predictable mission that requires little risk, predictable change, and ultimately no possibility. While it’s unavoidable that we will break our word, we can ALWAYS honor our word.

— Being a person of integrity means honoring your word even when breaking my word (see 1):

  • Proposition-1: That I will do what I say I will do, as I said I would do it – nothing more and nothing less.
  • Proposition-2: If I cannot do what I said as stated, then I will immediately communicate everything I must to all relevant parties to lessen the impact and to restore my word.
  • Supposition: Following propositions 1 and 2, I can honor (restore) my word to a clean baseline, allowing me to create new agreements, make new promises, and restore trust.

7. Struggling with this Alone.

Paradoxically, acknowledging that we have a weak word, frees us of the need to prove anything or to impress ourselves or others. It opens an inquiry into which situations may reveal our “weak word” and begins the work of strengthening it.

Such an inquiry reveals our strength and invites support. Honoring one’s word is simple and available for everyone, but if it were easy, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. We’ve made this a complicated ideal about character or identity, rather than an accessible social practice about workability. It is loaded with morals, ethics, and virtues, and fraught with embarrassment and shame.

STOP taking on your integrity by yourself, all alone!

The only way to create a system for a strong word is to include others in this social practice with you.

  1. Invite others to hold you accountable and then hold others accountable to their word.
  2. Pause before saying yes to promises and be clear that saying yes means yes to actual completion.
  3. Acknowledge when you’ve received requests from others, even if you cannot respond to their request. This reduces uncertainty about you, and for them. You can respond to them later regarding the specifics of their request.
  4. Normalize the practice of inviting people to follow-up on their requests of you, if they’ve not heard from you within 24 hours. This practice allows you to acknowledge receipt, and then you can either accept, decline, or negotiate the request.
  5. And when others hold you accountable, thank them. Show appreciation for their commitment to your word. You want that person in your life.

By enrolling others in supporting us to strengthen, restore, and honor our word, we can, together, increase performance, enhance relationships, and deepen trust.

Reading Time: 10 min. Digest Time: 13.5 min.

View our related blogs:

Resources and Research

Bhavana Learning Group is committed to extending research on the concept of “Integrity.” We support coaches, teachers, and educators with new conversations for workabilityaccountability, and transparency in education and organizational life. The work presented in these blogs applies knowledge, experience, and wisdom based on research from these sources noted here.

  • Special recognition for ground-breaking research that viewed “different paradigms for integrity,” developing concepts such as “workability” and our “word as a whole and complete” as researched in the Fair Use document Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomena of Morality, Ethics, and Legality by Erhard, Werner, Jensen, Michael C., and Zaffron, Steve. The Abridged version (English Language Version, July 4, 2017), originally published on 18 Feb 2010 and revised on 22 Apr 2022 is also published through Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 10-061, Barbados Group Working Paper No. 10-01, Simon School Working Paper No. 10-07, Available at SSRN here and here.

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Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group, which serves coaches, educators, and learning professionals and executives.

As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, Tony’s work explores the human side of change by bringing wisdom to learning. His focus includes ontological inquiry, Integral meta-theory, and Buddhist psychology to sustain contemplative practice.