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  • Steve Nguyen, PhD

Personal Integrity Is Being Congruent; Not Hedging, Not Sidestepping, Not Misleading

"A liar will not be believed, even when he speaks the truth." -Aesop

In a 2015 Hallmark Christmas holiday movie called, "I'm Not Ready for Christmas" (starring Alicia Witt as Holly), we learn that if you tell lies, eventually those lies will catch up to you. The main character, Holly, is not a bad person, but she lies and stretches the truth in order to avoid the commitments she made, to avoid disappointing others & letting them down, and to achieve her own self-absorbed goals.

Stewart Leadership’s LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.) book is an amazing coaching guide with 21 competencies. One of those competencies is personal integrity.

What Is Personal Integrity?

"Personal integrity is demonstrating consistent honesty and commitment to your word. It’s following through to deliver on what you say you will do. It’s exhibiting principled leadership and sound business ethics, thereby earning the trust of others. Personal integrity is being authentic, being true to your values, and honoring the goodness in others. As a leader, your single most important attribute is being trusted" (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 119-120).

"Treat everyone you encounter with respect and professionalism. You’ll never regret it. You will, however, regret hasty judgments, gossip, and acting with superiority. And that behavior will eventually catch up to you" (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 124).

To me, what's just as damaging and harmful as blatantly lying is a person who's a hedger - someone who's so afraid that others might dislike them they'll do the following (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009):

  • Hold back and qualify everything

  • Do not speak up when they should

  • Unsure how to say what needs to be said so they go bland and qualify everything

In other words, rather than being transparent, honest, and straight-to-the-point, a hedger dances around what needs to be said—sidestepping the issue—misleads others and misrepresents the point of the conversation.

"Build a reputation of trust. This isn’t based on a single event or moment. It’s influenced by a series of interactions, behaviors, and experiences—all observed by others who gradually formulate the perception of trust and honesty. Without trust, it doesn’t matter how brilliant, competent, talented, or skilled you are" (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 124).

"Being seen as someone who can be trusted, who has high integrity, and who is honest and truthful is essential to being believed. You may know someone who is clearly competent, dynamic, and inspirational, but if you have a sense that that person is not being honest, you will not accept what that person is telling you, and you will not willingly follow" (Kouzes & Posner, 2011, p. 18). 

"We've all seen people with enormous capability, strong results, even sometimes good intent who unfortunately go about what they're doing in a dishonest or unprincipled way. It's "the ends justify the means" mentality. It leads to manipulation, deceit, fraud, extortion, and scandal — to the Enrons, the WorldComs, the betrayals that destroy marriages and relationships of every kind" (Covey, 2006, p. 60).

In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey (2006) says when people have integrity they are congruent, that they are "whole, seamless, the same — inside and out" (p. 62) and there is "no gap between intent and behavior" (p. 62).

He writes (Covey, 2006, p. 63): 

A great example of congruence is Mahatma Gandhi. At one point in his life, he was invited to speak before the House of Commons in England. Using no notes, he spoke for two hours and brought an essentially hostile audience to a rousing standing ovation. Following his speech, some reporters approached his secretary, Mahadev Desai, incredulous that Gandhi could mesmerize his audience for such a long time with no notes. Desai responded:
What Gandhi thinks, what he feels, what he says, and what he does are all the same. He does not need notes... You and I, we think one thing, feel another, say a third, and do a fourth, so we need notes and files to keep track.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Organizational & Leadership Development Leader


Covey, S. M. R. (2006). The Speed of Trust: the One Thing That Changes Everything. Free Press.

Irvin, S. (Director). (2015). I'm Not Ready for Christmas. Hybrid/Mayor Entertainment.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2011). Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lost It. Jossey-Bass.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement – A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Korn Ferry.

Stewart, J. P., & Stewart, D. J. (2021). LEAD NOW!: A Personal Leadership Coaching Guide for Results-Driven Leaders (2nd ed.). Page Two Press.


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