Aristotle taught that how we talk about things shapes how we think about them. Words matter, which is why the control of language itself was a centerpiece of Orwell’s 1984. It’s all well and good to be able to see many shades of red, but without a rich language that provides different names for them, what difference does it make? Brick, Pink, Scarlet, Rose, Salmon, Cherry … the differences cease to matter if all are simply called “red.”
The same holds true when the opposite occurs: when the subtle differences between the meanings of words get washed away as they become thought of and used as mere synonyms for each other. For example, ever notice how Congress doesn’t “spend” much anymore? Instead, they “invest.” #FunWithFakeSynonyms (They also “invest” in the actual sense of the term, and seem to be abnormally successful at it. But that’s a
post blog for another time person.) Even worse, Leaders regularly use words like “resources” and “FTE’s” and “headcount” as synonyms for their own people.
“Integrity” is too often used as another, more sophisticated word for Honesty. It isn’t. More than just honesty, Integrity is about being whole in nature. (Dr. Henry Cloud has an excellent book on the subject.) Think of the integrity of the hull of a ship: no holes, no leaks, no places for the water to pour in, which is contrary to the whole concept of a boat. To be a person — a Leader — of Integrity demands far more than just being truthful. Integrity requires a wholeness of character.
Which brings me to Disney-Pixar’s latest and greatest piece of art: Inside Out. Life isn’t about always being HAPPY!!!, and Leading isn’t about always WINNING!!! Leading and living with Integrity means not trying to hide things we are uncomfortable with by overcompensating on the things that feel better. Often, that does mean facing hard truths when comforting lies are a breath away, but it also means:
- being Disgusted by the way team members pursue their own self-interest at the expense of others;
- feeling Fear at the specter of going out on the limb and leading into the unknown (but doing it anyway! You can’t dance with the Fear you pretend doesn’t exist.);
- stopping to soak in the Joy of what was accomplished, even if it wasn’t exactly the outcome that lines up with your goal perfectly;
- experiencing Sadness when bad things happen (yes, this is actually good for you! [movie spoiler at the link]);
- harnessing and directing Anger into effective ways for facing danger and Evil, rather than bottling it up and setting a timer.
The binary choices to be honest or not can be some of the hardest moves in the game of Life. The pursuit of Integrity, however, is a game on a whole other level. It is 3-dimensional chess compared to Honesty’s Checkers. If you’re a Leader reading this, it’s your move … but are you playing the right game?