Book Review: Integrity

Popular psychology books get a bad rap. So do business books. That means Henry Cloud’s Integrity: the Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, which fits in both categories, is not supposed to be a good book. But it is.

Early in the book, Cloud tells the story of a company he consulted for. The CEO didn’t know what to do about one of his employees. This employee was very profitable for the company, but he was very difficult to work with. He caused other good employees to leave, his presence was bad for company morale, and the CEO had to spend a lot of time dealing with the effects this employee had on others. Cloud then informed the CEO that every person has two aspects of the “wake” they leave behind them: the tasks and the relationships. If you only look at the tasks, you don’t see the whole picture. If you ignore someone’s character and only look at the “bottom line,” you’re blinding yourself to a huge chunk of reality. This eventually leads to failure, because character affects the bottom line in unforeseen ways.

Cloud then spends the rest of the book looking at six aspects of integrity. A person with integrated character:

1. Creates and maintains trust.
2. Is able to see and face reality.
3. Works in a way that brings results.
4. Embraces negative realities and solves them.
5. Causes growth and increase.
6. Achieves transcendence and meaning in life.

One unfortunate part of the book (which came out in 2006) is that Cloud uses Tiger Woods as a positive example of someone with character. Woods, he says, was able to focus on growth in his golf game despite overwhelming success. He wasn’t satisfied with how he was playing, even when he was winning. Of course, the revelations about Woods’s private life only came out later.

But using Woods as an example doesn’t weaken what Cloud is saying. He says that someone with an un-integrated character can be successful in many areas of life. A person can leave a very positive task wake and a negative relationship wake. I wonder if this characterization could also be applied to Steve Jobs. I have read several articles about him in the past week, and the consensus seems to be that, while he was brilliant and a visionary, he was a very difficult person to work with. Here is an extended quote from Cloud:

[S]ometimes people think that it is the lack of development that got someone to the place where he is. I hear this all the time when people talk about leadership character. They say, “Well, it is his drivenness and dictator personality that made him so successful. It is a problem in that it makes him difficult to work with, but without it he wouldn’t be where he is.” Wrong! What they are calling “drivenness” means an unbalanced achiever who is aggressive about getting the goals accomplished, but absolutely immature or terrible in working with people, or so narcissistic that he is unconfrontable and has a “God complex.”

That is not what made him successful. It is what created the collateral damage along his path toward success. His initiative, assertiveness, good use of being aggressive, brains, charm, strategic thinking, and other things made him successful, in spite of the imbalance and narcissism, not because of it. If he integrated those aspects of his character as well, the good ones that made him successful would not disappear! They would be augmented by other skills and make him even more powerful, not less. There often seems to be a fear against becoming a balanced person, as if accomplishment only belongs to the truly dysfunctional. (266-7)

This book isn’t groundbreaking; it’s filled with a lot of common sense, but sometimes common sense isn’t all that common. I came away from it with a greater understanding of integrity and how it plays out in a work environment. It confirmed my suspicion that only caring about the bottom line can actually be harmful to the bottom line. Not only that, but it was a good challenge for me to grow in my own character.