Organization & Leadership Consulting

The Difference Between Integrity and Authenticity

A coin is in the process of falling onto a table. Integrity and Authenticity are two sides of the same coin.
Integrity and Authenticity: two sides of the same coin.

Why, in some old movies, does the character who receives a coin sometimes clench it between his teeth? To tell if it is solid gold or just gold-plated lead, which is softer.

What is the difference between integrity and authenticity? 

It is not that one is real and the other is not. While integrity is inherently solid, authenticity may or may not be based on matters of substance. In other words, a person of integrity will also be authentic, but a person of authenticity does not necessarily have integrity. Adolph Hitler wrote his manifesto Mein Kampf and then proceeded to live it out. However, it failed because it lacked integrity. Buildings lacking structural integrity eventually fail. Software programs that lack integrity become corrupted more quickly than others.

Authenticity is essentially being true to who you say you are and to what you say you believe. Integrity is being true to principles external to yourself. A principle is a self-evident truth that bears up over time, across generations, and within most cultures (those with integrity, not so much those without it).

A framework for determining acts of integrity

In his 1996 book, Integrity, Stephen L. Carter offers a simple yet challenging means of determining if integrity has been demonstrated.

  1. Discern what is right and what is wrong.
  2. Do what you have discerned, even at personal cost.
  3. Declare openly that you are acting on what you have discerned is right.

Granted, reality makes those three steps more complex. Often, we need to seek input from others and other sources as part of #1. 

Regarding #2, it can require a deep dive into our value system to determine not only what is right but the best way to do the right thing. Sometimes that deep dive results in an outright challenge to that very value system and an adjustment to it. A value is not a value unless it costs you something. 

When it comes to #3, some will argue that an open declaration to act on what is right will tarnish or undermine the integrity of the action. That is true only if the motive for making the declaration lacks integrity. A pure motive makes the declaration itself an act of making a stand for what is right.

What about breaches of integrity?

Only one human has lived a life of perfect integrity (depending on your worldview). The rest of us commit integrity breaches with discouraging frequency. Each time such a breach is brought to our attention, through self-awareness or the good or ill-willed efforts of others, we are presented with an opportunity for restoration. The most effective way to restore integrity is to repeat steps 1, 2, and 3. Those that do so may have to prove themselves over additional time, but they are at least likely to be given the chance to do so. Those who seek to cover up the breach will eventually succumb to the Shakespearean adage, “Truth will out”.

So what?

It matters. True, neither authenticity or integrity are actually made up of physical matter. But they are real and they do have an impact…on relationships. Organizations are made up of people coming together because of a common purpose (or set of purposes). Those purposes cannot be fulfilled outside of relationships among people, teams, clients, customers, etc. Relationships between people practicing authenticity can accomplish a lot…but how long will those accomplishments and their impact last, and will they ripple out in a way that is truly beneficial to others? Relationships between people acting with integrity may or may not see significant monetary results…but if you want meaningful results that continue to ripple out and on with lasting effect, well, you know.

Integrity is costly. But it is an investment worth making. If it does not result in a monetary reward immediately, it will bring about future opportunities for such. It may also bring about a shift in perspective as to what is deemed most important.

Wholeness

Integrity and Integer come from the same root word. An integer is a whole number, one that is not fractured. So, in a nutshell, Any thought, word, or action that is oriented toward the wholeness of self, others, and relationships is one of integrity.  We submit that even in a world full of fractured people and organizations, any consistent attempt to pursue wholeness will bring about results sound enough to build upon.

TurningWest

One of the core values at TurningWest is integrity. We strive to fulfill the definition of it stated above. We hereby declare we have your best interests in mind. TurningWest—Your Guide to a healthy culture with meaningful results.

Another suggested resource: Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality.

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