How are excellence and integrity related?

For a couple of years now, I have had as my motto, Lenny Bennett’s quote “Excellence is the result of habitual integrity”. You can find it as the subtitle to this blog. It all started a couple of years ago when I was running a small development group at my company that was a center of excellence. We were tasked with being the thought leaders, scientists, educators, and experts at what we did. I was looking for ways to motivate my team and demonstrate some characteristics of what I thought was key to our success. That quote seemed to sum it all up.

As time has passed, I’ve become more and more fond of the quote. I don’t know anything about Mr Bennett (he was before my time), or why he coined this phrase. However, I think it is fairly significant, and I’m still in the process of unwrapping all that it means. In fact, I’ve purposed to study and think on the topic over the next year to see where it leads. I’m convinced that integrity is key to success in life on many different fronts. Excellence is really more an accidental outcome, but more on that later.

NOTE: For those of you who read this because I blog often about the business of software, don’t worry. It will eventually wind it’s way back. This detour, however, is essential to understanding this concept in its entirety.

In this post, I’m not going to be able to unwrap the meaning of integrity, how it applies to life on many fronts, and how one of its many outcomes is excellence. However, let me start with something simple, the definition of the word integrity.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which is one of my favorite dictionaries, defines integrity in this way:

1. Wholeness; entireness; unbroken state.
The constitution of the United States guaranties to each state the integrity of its territories.
The contracting parties guarantied the integrity of the empire.
2. The entire, unimpaired state of any thing, particularly of the mind; moral soundness or purity; incorruptness; uprightness; honesty.
Integrity comprehends the whole moral character, but has a special reference to uprightness in mutual dealings, transfers of property,and agencies for others.
The moral grandeur of independent integrity is the sublimest thing in nature, before which the pomp of eastern magnificence and the splendor of conquest are odious as well as perishable.
3. Purity; genuine, unadulterated, unimpaired state; as the integrity of language.

The more recent Miriam Webster Dictionary defines it this way

Definition of INTEGRITY
1. firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility
2. an unimpaired condition : soundness
the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness

Just a quick comparison of what nearly 200 years has done to this word in the Webster dictionary.

1) Both mention completeness, entireness. Integrity is the state of being complete without holes, without brokeness

2) Adherence to morality is mentioned in both, although the 1828 edition has much more to say about what that means. (Why this is true is surprising and worth a post in and of itself).

Just reading through these definitions of integrity gives me a lot of things to think about. The next thing that comes to mind is how these definitions drive me to believe that integrity is related to reality, which is the very definition of truth itself. Definitely much more to think on for a future post.