What is this thing called Integrity?
Greetings and thank you for coming back! I hope this message finds you well.
Many suggest that leaders should hide their shortcomings, doubts, and struggles. Still others think that leaders should seem perfect and avoid looking vulnerable. I don’t believe any of that is true. I think leaders should be honest and tell the truth. What if I just made things up, so you couldn’t see the real me? Maybe if I sugar-coated my words, then I might look sweet, right? I could. But if I did make stories up, that would be fiction. I have written several fictional stories, but there's a time and a place for that. When speaking to groups, I share real-life stories and factual circumstances to highlight what I have learned along my journey. In that way, I hope to help someone else avoid some of the same pitfalls in their life. That being said, I have to be honest with you. Writing about integrity is a tough topic is a hard subject to talk about. I will also admit that writing about integrity in my book was challenging, and it was increasingly difficult to write about integrity this blog. Do you know how many times I typed this blog and deleted it? I’ll put it this way, if my laptop was a person, she would have shut down the power, closed the lid on my fingers, and told me, “Go away and come back when you have your thoughts together!” Well, it’s good that my computer isn’t real because after writing four books, all of my fingers would be broken, and both wrists would be dislocated. What makes integrity so hard to talk about? Well, grab a shovel and start digging into the dictionary! With every page we turn, we will excavate another dirt-filled shovel.
1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
2. The state of being whole and undivided.
What’s interesting is that integrity is classified as a noun. The definition of a noun is a person, place, or thing. Most nouns you can talk to, visit, or pick up. But with integrity, you can’t do any of those things. People can see integrity, but they can’t touch it. People can feel it when they are in the presence of someone with integrity, yet they can’t hold it either. What makes it even more difficult to explain is that integrity is the thing that everyone wants to see and have, but nobody wants to hold it.
Integrity is like a Rose
If you ask me, a rose is a type of flower. But suppose you ask a Florist or a Horticulturist, an expert in garden cultivation and management. In that case, you might get an entirely different answer. Since a flower is a living organism, Horticulturists use the taxonomy system to categorize living things. The genus, or scientific name for a rose, is ‘Rosa,’ and it is classified in the ‘Rosaceae’ family. In this classification, over three hundred different species of Roses exist in the world today. Roses are beautiful flowers and can be virtually any color under the sun. People like to see roses. People want to receive roses too, but they are hard to hold. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced a thorn. If you haven’t ever felt a thorn prick your finger, don’t do it. Just take my word for it- thorns hurt!
That’s why I say that integrity is like a rose. Just like people long to see someone’s integrity and watch them take a stand and do things based on high moral principles, people love to see roses, receive them, and watch them grow. The problem becomes when it’s time to tell the truth. Can we hold the delicate petals and tell the truth while the ‘honesty thorn’ pricks our finger? Can we carry the flower carefully, without disrupting the integrity of the stem, as we hang on to our values? Even when it hurts? Integrity is beautiful when someone else is carrying it, but it’s hard for us to hold it when it’s our turn to carry that rose through the garden of life.
My promise to give myself the gift of integrity
Many of you reading this blog know I served in the United States Army. For most Soldiers, we have to go to places we don’t want to go and do things we don’t want to do. My life in the Army was like that too. I remember one assignment in particular. I received verbal assignment instructions. I was instructed that I would be sent to an organization because it needed help. The problem was that I was too junior and didn’t have enough rank. For this reason, I was informed that my assignment was on hold. I had to wait until a decision was made. Because I was too junior, I was almost pulled from that assignment. But, since I had the experience, the decision was made that I could do the job, so I was selected to go. On the one hand, I felt special because, even though I didn’t have enough Military rank, I was still told I had all of the right stuff. On the other hand, for me to be sent to a place even though I was junior, I knew that the unit must’ve been in terrible shape. I knew it was bad, but I had no idea how bad it really was. When I arrived, and whenever someone asked which department I was going to, I would get questions like, “What did you do to get sent here?” Did you make somebody mad or do something wrong?” Then, as I talked with some of the folks who have been there awhile, they laughed and said, “That area is a black hole. Kinda like a roach motel. No matter what good we put into it, nothing good comes out! Now, it’s all yours! Good luck! I hope you come out better than you went in!” They laughed in unison and walked away. I felt defeated, but they were right. As I looked around my new department, I felt a pain in the pit of my stomach. On stage, I tried to make it seem like I had everything together, but everything was falling apart on the other side of the curtain and behind the scenes. My predecessor made a bunch of decisions and left them for me to figure out. He didn’t properly train me, help me in-process into the unit, nor did he introduce me to anyone. He just said, “Good luck with all of this!” He was getting ready to retire, and I was left to figure out everything on my own. The procedures were outdated, the analyzers were antiquated, and some the staff were under investigation and being punished for making bad decisions. I tried to make changes but was met with resistance at every turn. I tried to ask for support and couldn’t get it. When I felt like giving up, one of my teammates came by my office. They knocked, leaned into the doorway, and said, “You know, you’re doing a great job.” I looked up in disbelief as they continued to talk and asked if they could sit down in the chair closest to the door.
Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I know exactly how she made me feel. She made me feel like she believed in me. She admired my integrity, told me to have faith, and gave me a mustard seed. The mustard seed was taped to a piece of paper and on that piece of paper was a Bible verse.
Matthew 17:20, Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
She assured me it would take time, but things would improve. She respected my integrity and said she would be there to help. And with integrity, she stayed true to her word. I always carried a Bible in the front pocket of my Military uniform. In that same pocket, I kept notes and quotes to guide me during times of trouble. So when she left my office, I placed that mustard seed in the pocket with my Bible. Then, I took out the pieces of paper filled with quotes.
"Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong." - Abraham Lincoln
“The time is always right to do what is right.” – Martin Luther King
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” -Abraham Lincoln
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." - Martin Luther King
I found a blank space on one of the pieces of paper and sketched a structure on it. On the top of that drawing, I wrote ‘People.’ Underneath that, wrote 'Places' and on the bottom, I wrote 'things.' Then, as I continued to draw, I outlined a design that would later be called, ‘The Lowery Care Construct.’ After that, I started focusing on the people. When I focused on the good people, those who were smart, focused, and wanted to do their best, everything began to fall into place. Being in the Army wasn’t easy for many reasons, but most of those reasons were my fault. In the book, I shared some of those reasons. I also discussed some of my reasons for joining the Army. But, in this Blog, I will tell you some of the promises I made to myself and why keeping those promises made my life a lot harder than it needed to be.
One of those promises was to be the opposite of what I was. In other words, when I left the Military, I wanted to be the opposite of what I was when I first joined the Army. I wanted to be bigger, stronger, become educated, and I wanted to be courageous enough to stand up and represent others. I also wanted to be able to speak to groups in public. But, most of all, I wanted to have integrity. I didn’t have it, but I wanted it, and that conversation was enough to make me remember where I was trying to go.
You might detect a common theme as you read quotes. Besides Jesus, the two people who demonstrated integrity in times of adversity were Abraham Lincoln and Marin Luther King. My initials are LL, but whenever I was in a bad spot and didn’t know what to do, I would think about LL. In this case, it was Lincoln and Luther. Whenever I had to deal with a wicked problem, if I was in a situation, or when I needed to be strong during troubled times, I would return to the people who served as my examples of integrity.
The day a lab test, became an integrity test
One day, I made a grave mistake at work. I accidentally reported an incorrect laboratory result. When I was reviewing my daily work, I found it. I thought about LL and forced myself to report it to my supervisor. When I reported it, instead of saying, “I have a dream!” I held my finger in the air and said, “I made a mistake!”
My supervisor said, “Why is your finger in the air, and what did you do?” I looked at my finger, lowered it, and smiled. Then, with regret and a straight face, I explained what happened and described the problem. To this day, I’m not sure why I didn’t notice it in the first place. But the truth was, I didn’t. Since I didn’t, I was in the wrong and needed to correct my mistake. It wasn’t a popular decision, and other people didn’t like it. Do you know why? Because my mistake created more work for others, and no one appreciated the extra work. I could’ve ignored it because it was the kind of mistake that no one would notice, but I couldn’t look myself in the mirror if I didn’t make it right. Why? Because I wanted to be a better version of LL and wanted to be known as someone with integrity.
Can I get a high-five for integrity?
When people embody the value of integrity and never risk losing it, that takes character. People of integrity realize that their credibility is more important than their reputation. When someone is enthusiastic or thrilled about something or someone and wants to show it in their actions, they give another person a “high-five” or “chest bump.” That’s what I do, in my mind, when I hear about someone doing something good for someone else. For me, Integrity will always get the “high five” over reputation. The character will always get the chest-bump over-popularity. That’s because integrity and credibility, are on the inside. And what’s on the inside is more important than everything else on the outside. Reputation is essential, yes, but integrity is more important. Popularity is temporary, but credibility is permanent. If you’ve heard of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, that’s proof that integrity lasts forever. After the mistake was fixed and corrected, my teammates gave me a high-five and a chest-bump for being bigger than the problem I caused.
Does the integrity shoe fit?
I remember this young lady; she didn’t like to wear high heels, so she wore tennis shoes all of the time. She always thought that sneakers were more comfortable. When she got older, she discovered that all of the other girls would wear high heels to the dance. She knew if she would be like them, she had to start practicing walking in them. Day after day, she would walk around like Bambi. Like a newborn fawn in the forest, her ankles would shake, rattle, and she would roll onto the floor. After years of only wearing sneakers and flats, now she was paying the price. She wanted to wear heels so bad; that she asked her parents to buy her a few more pairs. She practiced so much; she dreamed about it. In her dreams, she placed one foot in front of the other, like she had been walking in heels for years. Her parents were excited, thinking, “Finally, she’s growing up!” and bought her a few different colors. After a few weeks, she improved, but she still couldn’t walk very well. When it came time for the dance, she couldn’t wear them. She had to wear flats because her feet were swollen. She liked how the high heels looked, she wanted to wear them so badly, but she couldn’t walk in them. People like to see women in high heels. It looks nice. People also like other people to wear integrity too. Integrity is all about trust. Integrity is also about telling the truth. Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” I believe this is true. When you tell a lie, you’re always trying to figure out who you told what to. Now, I realize that telling a lie and getting into trouble is too much trouble. Besides that, people appreciate it when folks are honest to them, never lie, and tell them the truth. But those same people don’t find it as necessary when the shoe is on the other foot. It sounds good to say that you want to wear the integrity shoe, but sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Are you a model of integrity for others? Will you wear the shoe of integrity, or will you just wear something else that’s more comfortable? Do you know someone who possesses high levels of integrity? Someone who wears the shoes, walks the walk, and talks the talk? Do those around you seek your opinion or refrain from asking your advice because they see your ankles shaking in your high-heeled shoes of integrity?
In this broken world that we live in, we need people of integrity in our lives, and the only way to make this world better is to be what you want to see. So, if you are not where you need to be in the shoe store looking for your integrity shoe, I hope the things I have shared can help you become a person of integrity. Until then, my prayer for us is that we can all find our shoes, strut along our red carpet of life, and show how well we can walk in our shoes of integrity. If we can do that, we will be an example of integrity for someone else. Like the handyman or carpenter with her tools, integrity can be used to fix a multitude of problems in our lives. Like the clothes sewed together by the seamstress, integrity is tighter woven than the new outfit worn by the model. Why? Because we wear it every day on the runway of life. Integrity also follows us in the darkness in the absence of light. Still, like the Coal Miner’s hard hat, our integrity can shine abundantly and leave dishonesty hidden under the coal-stained rock. When one has it or lacks it, people will remember it. “Honest Abe” is a perfect example of how integrity-filled actions can outlast our years on this earth.
The hot potato – closing thoughts on integrity
To me, integrity is also like a game of hot potato. It’s alright when someone else is holding the potato, we don’t mind when it’s not in our hands, but when it’s passed to us, we don’t want it. It’s so hot, it hurts. That burn, makes us want to get rid of it. When we have it, we want to do anything and everything to get out of our hands as soon as possible. When driving on the road, most of us go the speed limit, drive defensively, and do our best not to cut someone off in traffic. We try to be courteous and stay in our lane, especially when driving in front of a police officer. But what about when we’re late? When we’re late, and when we’re in a hurry, we drive as fast as we can with the hot potato! We might not come to a complete stop, ignore a stop sign, or even roll right through a red light. When we’re not holding the potato, it’s easy to say what you should do when you’re not holding the potato. But, when the heat is on, and when you’re holding the hotness of integrity in your hand, we tend to do anything and everything we can to get rid of it. It’s hard to hold onto the heat of integrity. Integrity gets hot and we don’t like to get burned.
When we're at work, it’s at the end of the shift, we're not holding the potato. We're patiently waiting for the person to relieve us so we can go home. When you’re waiting, You’re just waiting around, wanting to leave. The person holding the potato is the person you’re waiting for. They are holding the potato in their hands as they’re driving. They have every excuse in the world to drop that potato. “Traffic is bad!” “My child was sick!” People care more about their phone's battery life than their own life, but they will try the excuse: “My phone went dead, so my alarm didn’t go off!” When the heat is on, when you feel the heat of integrity on your skin, we don’t like it. We don’t want to feel the heat, so we throw it down or pass it to someone else. So what do you do when you have the hot potato? Do you quickly throw it and your excuses towards someone else, or do you put on your oven mitt of integrity and deal with the situation?
I would like to close with a call to action. I would like to do this in the form of a quote from Martin Luther King. Even though over forty years have past, since these words were spoken, these words are still relevant and speaks about the need for integrity still exists today.
“May I stress the need for courageous, intelligent, and dedicated leadership…. Leaders of sound integrity. Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with justice. Leaders not in love with money, but in love with humanity. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause. God give us leaders. A time like this demands great souls with pure hearts and ready hands. Leaders whom the lust of office does not kill. Leaders whom the spoils of life cannot buy. Leaders who possess opinions and a will. Leaders who will not lie. Leaders who can stand before the demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking. Tall leaders, sun-crowned, who live above the fog in public duty and in private thinking. This is one of the great needs of the hour, but as we move on all over this nation we will need dedicated, courageous, and intelligent leaders.” - Martin Luther King
As I close this blog post, I will tell you what I say to myself every day: “The best of my life is the rest of my life!” And just like it’s waiting for me, it’s waiting for you! So live your life, love your life, and enjoy the journey. You were uniquely created and creatively designed by a God who doesn’t make mistakes. You are so important that if you tell me that you want to keep reading, I will keep writing for you! If so, I will meet you here next time!
Until then, please take care, be safe, be well, and thank you for answering my prayer!
Kindest and sincerest regards,
Lionel Quartus Lowery II