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Three Elements of Integrity

When I poll people during the Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading workshops on the traits and characteristics of great leaders one that always makes the list is Integrity. The question then becomes how do we define Integrity? A few years ago I listened to a talk Brene Brown Ph.D. gave where she talked about Three Elements of Integrity. I started weaving that into the Dare to Be Great workshops, giving full credit to Brene Brown. A couple of years later her book Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Whole Hearts. Tough Conversations, was published and I was pleased to see that she talked about it in the book as well. So what are the three elements of integrity?

    • Choosing Courage over Comfort.
    • Choosing What’s Right over what’s fun, fast or easy.
    • Practicing your Values, not just Preaching your Values.

Prior to exploring this definition of Integrity in the Dare to Be Great workshop we set it up with discussions around Two Guiding Questions, the definition of Courage and the importance of Core Values as part of organizational Culture.

The Two Guiding Questions are ‘What’s Important Now?’, which I refer to as Life’s Most Powerful Question, and ‘What’s the right thing to do?’. We discuss the reality that doing what is right is not always what is popular, expedient or easy, but it is always what is right. We then discuss the fact that doing what is right requires courage, which leads into us defining courage.

I borrow the definition of courage from leadership trainers Jack Colwell and Charles “Chip” Huth. That definition of courage is, “To act for what is right, at risk to self, when members of your social group do not agree with the act.” The “risk” here is seldom a physical right. It is the risk that we will upset people, that people will be mad at us and talk about us behind our back.

This naturally flows into the discussion around integrity, which the participants had previously identified as a trait of great leaders. Brene Brown’s three elements pull together the conversations around courage, doing what is right and core values.

When we discuss the third element, “Practicing your values, not just preaching your values.” I reference Stephen Maguire Ph.D., the Executive Director at Center of Values and Ethics at Carleton University. Stephen published a research paper a number of years ago on Professionalism in Policing, which I later had the pleasure of interviewing him about for The Excellence in Training Academy. In that paper he explains that if you want to have a professional organization, people in key leadership positions must live, model and practice the core values of the organization, not simply talk about them. In order to live those values, people need to know them and embrace them, which leads us back to the discussion on the importance weaving core values into the culture of the organization.

I would encourage you to take time and reflect on those three elements of integrity, and ask yourself how you rate in each of those areas. I would also encourage you to share them with your team so they help to define integrity for the entire team.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey.

Register yourself, and your team for the Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop to get everyone on the same page regarding leadership and culture. If you are interested in hosting a live Dare to Be Great workshop reach out to me at

Brian Willis