If medicine is a team sport, then integrity is the force that holds the team together. In our statement of core values, integrity is characterized as “We build confidence and trust in all interactions.” Integrity is often defined in terms of trust or honesty. But it is really much more. The word derives from the Latin root integer, meaning whole, or complete. Integrity embodies the concept of consistency, the parts being in harmony with the whole: for example, consistency between words and actions. In that sense, the link to honesty is clear, and is exemplified in the associated behaviors “I follow through on commitments,” and “I give and receive feedback honestly.”
But how does this notion of integrity as honesty explain “I listen to others to gain understanding,” or “I am committed to service excellence”? This follows from a more expansive view of consistency, not only between words and actions, but between our actions and our inner principles, beliefs, and values. Integrity is the pillar that supports our other values of purpose, collaboration, health, and innovation. If we act with integrity, then what we do is motivated by our devotion to these other values, by our vision of the children in Wisconsin being the healthiest in the nation.
We cannot collaborate if we do not listen for understanding, if we do not assume good intent. When we fail to assume good intent, then our action is not consistent with our values – we lack integrity.
A key behavior is “I treat others with dignity, compassion, and respect.” Doing this, in turn, requires understanding those with whom we interact. It means trying to put ourselves in their place, trying to see the world through their eyes. This is particularly critical for our patients and families. Acting with integrity requires empathy. For a compelling look at approaching others with empathy in a health care setting, see this Cleveland Clinic video.
Integrity doesn’t just apply to us as individuals. Our organization must also have integrity. Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else, states “An organization has integrity – is healthy – when it is whole, consistent, and complete, that is, when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense.”
For us as individuals, and collectively as an organization, integrity is absolutely critical. Lack of integrity leads to failure – it is, literally, dis-integration. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” But we can also look at this more positively. When we have integrity, we are whole, we are healthy. As Gandhi said: “Happiness is when what we think, what we say, and what we do are in harmony.”