In his monumental biography, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of LifeWarren Buffett gave sound advice on making ethical decisions that keep you on the right path:

If you're not sure if something is right or wrong, consider whether you'd want it reported in the morning paper.

While Buffett may have been alluding to high-profile public figures with a lot at stake, coming to the crossroads of doing right or wrong isn't reserved for successful people with executive titles or corner offices. Employees at every level face hard decisions where their integrity may come into question.

And Buffett doesn't mince words when it comes to dealing with his own who may be in short supply. After taking control of Salomon in the wake of a major 1991 scandal at the financial firm, he famously told a Congressional panel that he had a simple message for employees: 

Lose money for the firm, and I will be understanding. Lose a shred of reputation for the firm, and I will be ruthless

Hiring situations are no different. Buffett says there are three key attributes he looks for when considering job candidates, and so should we. But one is non-negotiable:

You're looking for three things, generally, in a person: intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don't have the last one, don't even bother with the first two

You get the theme here, right? Integrity is huge for the success of the Oracle of Omaha and his investment decisions. But let's be honest. When was the last time you made a bad business or work-related choice that was out of integrity, which you later regretted? We've all been there. Perhaps something that cost you a job, a promotion, or worse -- a marriage. 

Having integrity may not be what you think

But let's dissect integrity further. What makes it what it is? Do we simply reduce it to the common denominator of ethics and morals and keeping your hand out of the cookie jar? Am I defined as having integrity by just being honest, ethical, not lying, cheating, or stealing and generally staying out of trouble? 

Renowned psychologist and best-selling author, Dr. Henry Cloud, wrote the book on it and sheds rare light on the topic from an angle you may have not considered. In Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, he says integrity is "one's makeup as a person that takes people to success or enables them to sustain it if they ever achieve it."

Put another way, Cloud says, "Who a person is will ultimately determine if their brains, talents, competencies, energy, effort, deal-making abilities, and opportunities will succeed." And integrity is only part of the equation.

For example, ever worked with someone whom you'd consider an honest, ethical person of integrity, but they just weren't cutting it? Perhaps a peer or boss who was smart, talented, and a person of good character, but whose "personhood" held him back from accomplishing things?

What Cloud is getting at is that a person's integrity shows up at its best when having mastered growth in the very soft skills area that most companies ignore training their leaders on. Cloud is elevating the conversation beyond honesty to having a growth mindset of learning things like humility, awareness, empathy, radical transparency, taking risks, the courage to confront, and living your values daily--norms and behaviors that are hard to come by even for the most ethical and moral person.

In learning and adapting to all aspects of your integrity, it becomes easier to develop trust, repair a relationship after a conflict, listen with empathy, or give critical feedback to build someone up. 

6 parts to integrity we need to learn to be effective

Cloud writes that a person of integrity functions as a "whole" person with due "integration of all the parts." So when we can focus enough on specific issues to grow and get all the parts working together, Cloud says, it leads to effectiveness and results. For practical purposes that will help us determine our gaps, Cloud narrows down the specific areas of growth into six parts:

1.  The ability to connect authentically (which leads to trust)

2. The ability to be oriented toward the truth (which leads to finding and operating in reality)

3. The ability to work in a way that gets results and finishes well (which leads to reaching goals, profits, or the mission)

4. The ability to embrace, engage, and deal with the negative (which leads to ending problems, resolving them, or transforming them)

5. The ability to be oriented toward growth (which leads to increase)

6. The ability to be transcendent (which leads to enlargement of the bigger picture and oneself)

"If people are able to function well in these areas," writes Cloud, "their gifts are able to come to fruition in the real world and get real results for meaningful purposes." On the flip side, he adds, "the ways in which we are incomplete in these things will have a real effect on our fruitfulness both functionally and relationally."