I built a model airplane when I was a kid. The instructions said to use modeling cement which we didn’t have. I asked my mom if she could buy me some. She said sure, we’ll go tomorrow.
But I was impatient. I couldn’t wait until tomorrow. I wanted to build the plane today. So I got the white Elmer’s Glue, and that’s how I built my plane.
When the glue was clear and dry I picked up the plane by one of the wings and the wing broke off. That really upset me so I glued it back and used scotch tape to hold it. While I was dealing with that, the propeller fell off. Soon, all the parts were coming off because you don’t use white glue to build a model airplane. You use cement.
My plane had no integrity. It had all the parts, except the part that mattered most of all: the right kind of glue to keep it together.
You can have the greatest plan, the most sincere intentions, the most brilliant idea, but if you don’t have the integrity to bring it together and keep it together, it just won’t fly. Or worse, after it gets airborne, it will come crashing to the ground.
Integrity is the ability to be your word.
It is the integration of your words and your actions. With it, your words can move mountains. Without it, even though your talk is cheap, very few will buy it.
Can you keep your agreement to be somewhere at an agreed upon time? If you can’t, it sends the message loud and clear: this person can not be counted on to keep his agreements.
Do you honor your financial agreements by paying your bills on time? If you don’t guess what happens? Your credit score announces to the world: you can’t count on this person to pay back money that they borrow.
Do you do what you say you are going to do? If you do it once, probably no one will notice. Do it five times, people start to respect you. Do it one hundred times and you become dependable. Do it every single time and guess what happens?
Your word now has power. When you speak, people listen. If you say it’s going to rain, people start buying umbrellas, and if you say it will flood, they start building dams. Need funds? A handshake will get you millions.
Now you show up in the world as a rock, unshakable in your ability to gather people and resources, to move and inspire people to action. Just say the word and people will fight for you and die for you because they know you make things happen, because every time you said it was gonna happen, it did, sure as the day follows night.
But your ability to have this kind of integrity doesn’t start with showing up on time and paying your bills or keeping promises to people. Nope. Those are just the outward signs.
The power of integrity and the force that it wields starts with keeping your word to yourself. It grows from the integration of your own thoughts, words and deeds. It means you are whole, that all the parts are working together in unison and that your promises to yourself are not scattered to and fro by circumstance, but instead, are constructed to stand solidly in the face of breakdowns, obstacles, and the winds of change. You develop a degree of trust in yourself that knows neither fear nor doubt.
Want to tighten up your integrity? Want to start using a stronger glue?
- Start waking up at the hour you say you will, everyday except one day. Do it come hell, high water, or late night parties.
- Start showing up at the agreed upon time. All the time.
- Set an easy goal with a deadline. Accomplish it. Set a harder goal. Accomplish it. Set an audacious goal. Accomplish it.
- Start taking 3 daily actions that you will do every day. EVERY DAY. Regardless of whether you want to or not or whether it’s convenient or not.
- When you commit,do so with full responsibility of choice that you will show up. If you can’t, don’t.
It takes practice. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. You do what you say you are going to do. Your speech and actions cemented together and taking wing on the power of your word: that’s integrity.
For a podcast of this blog, go to the Ted in Your Head podcast, Episode 27.