The Coaching Chronicles #7: Understanding integrity
Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Integrity is an important part of any coach's character. Yet what exactly is it? What does it look and sound like? Examining a definition begins to shed light on the matter: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Another way to define integrity is adherence to moral and ethical principles. Rather than trying to nail integrity down to one set of actions or behaviors, coaches should view this vital virtue as an umbrella term that encompasses many smaller, more specific qualities.
The first definition relates integrity to honesty. For coaches, this means more than simply refraining from lies. Instead, three aspects of honesty should be kept in mind in relation to coaching relationships (Kee, Anderson, Dearing, Harris, & Shuster, 2010). The first is the general view of honesty; say what we mean and mean what we say. People of integrity find little to no variance in what they say and what they do. The larger the discrepancy, the lower their impact.
Secondly, honesty requires coaches to tell the truth without blame or judgment. Even though honesty is the best policy, the form that honesty takes can make the difference between moving toward or away from the coaching goal. Coaches, as outside observers with extensive education experience, are naturally put in a place of power in a school. When they use their position to tear down teachers, highlighting faults and nit-picking lesson delivery, their honesty is hurtful. Instead, describing actions and results in non-judgmental, objective language maintains coaching relationships and focuses on next steps, not teacher deficiencies.
Third, honesty requires that coaches don't let their truth get in the way of the truth. Everything is subjective. Gustave Flaubert wrote, "There is no truth. There is only perception." As much as coaches might want to believe that they have complete mastery of the truth, integrity reminds them that what they hold is simply their perception of reality. The teachers and students they work with all create their own version of reality through their perceptions. As coaches work with teachers to improve student performance, they would do well to remember that they do not hold the undeniable facts as to why an instructional strategy succeeded or failed. They simply hold a part of the truth, their perception, and work with teachers to piece together a larger picture of reality.
In the book The Speed of Trust, Covey and Merrill (2006) discuss five waves of trust, each larger and broader than the preceding wave. It all begins, however, with the first wave of self-trust. This describes the confidence we have in ourselves, in our ability to set and achieve goals, to keep commitments, and to walk our talk. When we trust ourselves, we open the possibility of believing in our ability to inspire and build trust with others.
The key principle of self-trust is credibility. This flows from high character, high competence, and ultimately comes down to four core areas - integrity, intent, capability, and results. Credibility is something seen by others but begins within oneself. Rather than trying to convince others of one's integrity and intentions, coaches would do better to invest that energy in reflecting on their own attitudes and actions. Credibility is an attribute given to oneself, not bestowed by others.
More than simply believing in ones ability to produce results with character, integrity also includes an aspect of courage. As coaches walk their talk, they must have the strength to act in accordance with their values and beliefs (Covey & Merrill, 2006). In a perfect world, the values and beliefs of coaches would align perfectly with the schools, principals, and teachers they work with. Sometimes, however, coaches are thrust into situations that challenge their personal codes. How they navigate those troubled waters requires much fortitude and finesse. Integrity includes the courage to do the right thing even when it's hard.
Difficult choices test the mettle of coaches. Specifically, responding with meekness allows coaches to move forward in integrity while maintaining relationships. Humble coaches are more concerned about what is right than about being right, about acting on good ideas than having good ideas, and about embracing new truth than defending an outdated position. They also focus more on building the team than exalting themselves, about recognizing contribution than being recognized for it (Covey & Merrill, 2006). In short, courage with humility is needed for coaches to maintain integrity in the complexities of their daily work.
A tool sometimes ignored or overlooked by coaches is their conscience. When coaches pay heed to their inner voice of reproof or approval, they alter their vision, discipline, and passion. By utilizing their inborn voice, coaches have a solid foundation for building and strengthening their relationships with teachers (Covey, 2005). Without credibility or integrity, teachers have little interest in working with or learning from coaches. What coaches do speaks much louder than the words they say.
Integrity begins with self-trust but finds fulfillment in actions. One without the other is hollow, a house built on sand. What matters is the people coaches become as a consequence of pursuing their craft. Character is at the heart of everything coaches do and integrity is the heart of character (Loehr, 2012). With this serving as a foundation, coaches begin to build the credibility they need to act as change agents in schools and districts.
The next post in The Coaching Chronicles looks at how coaches can walk their talk.
Covey, S. R. (2005). The 8th habit: From effectiveness to greatness. New York: Free Press.
Covey, S. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2006). The speed of trust: The one thing that changes everything. Simon and Schuster.
Kee, K., Anderson, K., Dearing, V., Harris, E., & Shuster, F. (2010). RESULTS coaching: The new essential for school leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Loehr, J. (2012). The only way to win: How building character drives higher achievement and greater fulfillment in business and life. Hachette Books.