Integrity is Not Always Automatic

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 14, Issue No. 11a
March 1, 2016

By Dan Coughlin


We all have intangible assets for making a significant difference. They are character strengths, passions, talents, self-confidence, and behaviors. Over time our assets become engrained in us, and we can usually count on them to be there for us so that we don’t have to stop and think about what to do in every situation. However, there are times we need to slow down and consider what is happening.

Two Ways to Think

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains that we think in two ways. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional. This is how we think most of the time. Over time we have learned things that have helped us develop an informed intuition. We can usually rely on our informed intuition to get us through most situations effectively. System 2 is slower, more deliberate, and more logical. There are times when we need to shift gears and deliberately think about what is happening and what we should do to respond effectively in that situation.

If you’re a good public speaker or you are resilient or you have a passion for bringing people together around a common cause, then those are assets you can usually count on without having to think about them. However, there are situations where you could get thrown off track, and in those times you have to really concentrate in order to maintain your assets and use them effectively.

I ran into one of those situations recently. I define integrity as doing what you think is the right thing to do even if no one else is watching.

My wife, Barb, our children, Sarah and Ben, and myself were going to watch a high school basketball game. The game was sold out, and our friends had tickets for us. They were waiting at the front door. We had to park half a mile away. It was about twenty degrees Fahrenheit outside. We were cold and racing to get to the door. We were about fifty feet from the door and the other three were a few steps ahead of me. Then we heard a loud screech in the parking lot. Two cars were going too fast and came into an intersection. After they both screeched to a stop, one car slid forward a few more inches and hit the other car. The front driver’s door was dented in about eight inches. I hesitated. Should I go make sure everyone is alright, or should I go into the game? As I stood there, another man said to his two young sons, “Stay on the sidewalk. I’ll go check on the car.” Then the driver who hit the other car got out of his car. And then I walked inside the gym. As soon as I got inside the front door, I knew I did the wrong thing. I should have told the man to stay with his young children, and I should have gone to check on the driver in the car that was hit. I stuck with my plan of getting inside the door to be with my family and not hold them up when I should have abandoned that plan and acted with integrity. I didn’t allow myself to think deliberately about what had changed in my situation. I just acted fast without thinking.

When to Stop and Think Through What is Happening

Here are six situations when I encourage all of us, and definitely including me, to shift over to System 2 thinking so that our assets can be applied effectively toward making a significant difference:

  • We’re very tired.
  • We’re talking about a topic we know very little about, but we’re acting like we have expertise in that area.
  • We’ve been drinking.
  • We’re starting to get overly negatively emotional.
  • We’re having fun and making off the cuff comments in a work environment.
  • We’re feeling rushed.

It’s possible in those situations that we’re still being effective, but those are six situations where I encourage all of us, including me, to slow down and deliberately think through what we’re doing and saying.

We all have assets, but sometimes we can’t count on them to automatically carry us through a situation.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

Back to Newsletter Page