The Real Meaning of Integrity – by David Tovey

I experienced a perfect example of integrity at a supermarket checkout.

A young man came back to the store in order to return a small over payment of change from a transaction that had taken place a few minutes earlier. To say the supermarket staff were surprised is an understatement. A customer services manager was called over and she thanked the young man for his ‘unusual’ honesty. ‘Normally’ she said ‘as a big company our business is seen as fair game and if we make a mistake in the customer’s favour we tend to lose out’.

As he left the store, with a handful of vouchers as a tangible thank you, I managed to speak with the young man and asked him why he returned such a small amount of change – ‘after all’ I said ‘no one would have known if you’d just driven off’. There was a short pause then he looked me in the eyes and said ‘I would have known’. He went on to tell me it was about doing the right thing – one of the values he learned as a Royal Marine. Having spent time studying leadership at the Royal Marine Commando Training Centre at Lympstone in Devon – I knew instantly what he meant.

Not always positive 

The young Royal Marine wasn’t demonstrating integrity because he was being honest by the way. ‘Integrity’ doesn’t necessarily mean positive characteristics like honesty and trust. That definition is only relevant in the context of what we might think of as ethical or moral behaviour.

The Latin root of the word integrity is ‘integer’ – to be whole or complete.

Having integrity is about consistency – consistency of values, principles – and more importantly actions. The young Royal Marine acted in accordance with his values and principles – even when only he knew he was doing it.

During the time I was involved in law enforcement I learned that even street gangs and many criminals can have integrity. In terms of ethics it’s just that their values and principles are different from most people in business. Have no doubt that they do have a ‘code’ – principles and values that they adhere to – and the penalty for lacking integrity can be severe!

We tend to measure ourselves by our intentions, other people measure us by our actions!

If any relationship is to thrive, whether B2B, B2C, internal or external (or personal for that matter) there has to be congruence between the words that set the expectation of certain values and the actions someone demonstrates.

When you actions match you intentions, when others EXPERIENCE that you live your values and stick to your principles, whatever the circumstance, relationships blossom.

Customers, clients, colleagues, suppliers, people who you report to and people who report to you want to know that they can trust you. How many times have you seen people leave an organisations because they didn’t trust their manager or seen customers stop buying from less than reliable suppliers they learned they could not trust – usually without fuss or giving feedback as to the real reason?

Integrity in business, based on sound values and principles; trust, honesty, ethics, doing the right thing – builds loyalty, engagement and high performance from individuals and teams. It builds long term profitable relationships with clients and customers that buy and re-buy. As Ken Blanchard says – loyal customers then become raving fans!

Integrity = Influence

If you want real influence, if you want to lead others or win business; integrity has to be a key characteristic of who you are. You can’t fake integrity (well not for long) and we all know people who don’t live up to the expectations they set.

Successful leaders and business developer’s base the decisions they make on principles. They consistently do the right thing rather than the convenient, easy or popular thing to do. Because they base their actions on values and principles they are trusted to consistently deliver as promised.

“There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity”. Tom Peters

Human beings excel when allowed to act in accordance with their personal values. Ultimately people leave organisations where their own values and the values of the organisation differ (or worse – they stay and disengage).

Whilst having integrity doesn’t necessarily mean an individual is a ‘good’ person, it does mean they can be depended on to act in accordance with the values they claim to live by.


David Tovey is a motivational speaker, coach, consultant and author of Principled Selling – How to Win More Business Without Selling Your Soul, published by Kogan Page. With over 25 years of sales and marketing experience, David works with individuals and organisations to help them achieve outstanding sales growth with a joined up approach to inbound marketing, social media, sales, major account management and sales leadership. You can contact David at You also can connect with him at Twitter and LinkedIn.


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