Integrity embodies everything you want from an employee. Its commonly used definition is strict adherence to a moral code, which implies a high-level of honesty. Honor and integrity are different, though, even though honesty is at the core of the modern definition of honor. While very similar, honor and integrity are distinctly different concepts that drive unique behaviors.

Honor Dynamics

A dictionary definition of honor is strikingly similar to that of integrity. In fact, the most popular definitions reference each other almost interchangeably. Still, the historical use of honor contains nuances that are of utmost importance.

Today, honor lives in our culture’s most highly prized institutions– military, first responders, and academia. It embodies and promotes the shared morals and values of these institutions. Other corners of our culture abandoned explicit references to such moral codes. Instead, we’re increasingly motivated by superficial objectives, like social media engagement and material wealth signals, as a proxy.

Three concepts form the foundation of honor – the honor group, admission and expulsion, and recognition and hierarchy.

Honor Group

Group identification is the cornerstone of an honor system. Formality of the structure is less important than the commonalities that bind its membership.

For example, an informal honor group may be leaders of major hotel investment organizations. While they do not formally subscribe to a unifying group, they run in similar circles, attend the same events, and routinely contribute to interviews and accolades in the trade press.

Companies, on the other hand, offer a formal honor group with clearly defined acceptance and progression. This group has a unifying goal in the vision of the organization and the roles each person plays to move the company toward that goal. This vision may explicitly highlight honor and integrity, but the former is usually not.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a five-stage model of human needs, which has become the foundation for many modern organizations’ human capital strategies. Professionals in the developed world easily meet the basic physiological and safety needs. Honor comes into consideration in the next three levels.

The honor group meets the needs of belongingness and love. Family, friends, and colleagues fill your bucket for intimacy. Moving into different stages of recognition within the honor group meets the esteem needs. Finally, one reaches self-actualization when she can comfortably express herself within the honor group with no fear of retribution or expulsion.

Admission & Expulsion

High school is a microcosm of real life with so many lessons about social structures. While the internet expanded our perception of accessible social groups, physical interaction is still so important for socialization and acceptance into any social environment.

Modern work environments rely more on honor groups than the manufacturing or agricultural workplaces of the past. Even traditional, pre-Web 2.0 office environments didn’t require the same level of cohesion and lynchpin roles that modern organizations prize.

Technology automated or outsourced many repeatable tasks. And everyone that remains within an efficient organization has a clear and nearly irreplaceable position. Therefore, an honor group derives its strength of from exclusivity rather than systemization.

Culture and values determine admission and expulsion from an honor group. Seth Godin famously identifies these formal or informal groupings by, “people like us do things like this.”

Formality of the admission and expulsion processes usually follow that of the group composition to begin with. Informal honor groups may allow you to self-select in, and expulsion is as simple as collective ghosting – making you a digital exile.

Formal honor groups, like admission to an organization, may require a thorough vetting process. In this case, evidence that you just don’t fit – technically or culturally – supports a formal dismissal.

These norms for admission and expulsion are important to understand from the outset. However, progression within the honor group is rarely as well defined. You quickly learn your place, but your ability to attain status is based on a variety of factors.

Recognition & Hierarchy

Status is the ultimate goal within an honor group. This may be explicit with a clearly defined hierarchy and title structure, or it could be implicit with informal recognition of leadership within the group.

Contribution is the most common way to attain status within an honor group.

The world is more connected than ever, but the excess noise makes it difficult for people to decipher which honor group they belong to or want to join. For example, you may want acceptance into a group of high-quality hotel investors. However, your reputation among an informal group of brokers, owners, and influential third parties define acceptance and progress within this group.

Movement and status attainment within an informal honor group follows a similar goal setting process as defining your investment strategy. It starts with knowing what you have to offer the group, and your progress comes in filling holes that others are not willing or able to fill.

Your contribution pushes you up the hierarchy regardless of its formality, but it usually takes more to navigate this field effectively. Make a point to identify and please the kingmakers. These people will pull you up and introduce you to new opportunities for contribution that you may not see from where you stand.

When Honor Drives, Integrity Thrives

Honor and integrity are closely related, but they are clearly different. As you see above, honor is more of a social construct than a moral value. Integrity is a guiding principle that accompanies many other values within the honor group.

Value sets energize the honor group. These are the principles that everyone within the group holds in common and the leaders of the group exemplify. Alignment of values is critical for movement within the honor group, and deviation results in expulsion or marginalization.

Honesty is a core value of many organizations. This comes with a loaded set of expectations as to how someone within the group will act in different situations. Those expectations and actions form the culture around application of these values.

The honesty-related definition of integrity is inadequate for the honor group. Rather, adherence to a set of principles or objectives is the most effective definition of integrity.

Honor Rewards

Status comes with many rewards in an honor group. However, access is the most valuable of these rewards in real estate investing groups.

Relationships are at the core of every successful business venture. Your ability to meet and generate business from a leader in your industry often comes down to your proximity to that person through others. The honor group provides this access via contribution and kingmakers.

Fear, security, and reproduction drive the most fundamental decisions of our two-million-year-old brain. These superficial rewards initially encourage entry into an honor group. However, they are insufficient to sustain long-term success.

Wealth is a direct reflection of contribution.

The real estate investment chicken-egg problem usually come down to deals and money. You need money for deals, but you need deals to get the money.

Building a deal pipeline is relatively easy in the beginning with widely marketed deals. However, the best deals and most lucrative financing sources come as the result of access conveyed through reputation and status.

The Long Game

Everyone knows a story of short-term wins at the expense of long-term success. Children’s’ stories, like Tortoise and the Hare, relay the importance of the long game. They teach us to suppress temptation for quick wins in favor of slow-and-steady progress.

Status attainment within an honor group takes time.

Many shortcuts allow you to skip a few rungs of the ladder, but use them with caution. Consider whether these shortcuts are filling a long-term need of the honor group or simply satisfy an immediate condition.

Status maintenance relies on your ability to continuously perform at the level that allowed to you get to where you are. Reduction in status or expulsion is the penalty if you are unable or unwilling to maintain that same level of contribution.

This point binds honor and integrity. Self-awareness is critical to building a sustainable brand within your chosen peer group.

Formal and informal groups routinely promote excessive hard work by virtue of production that benefits the group. However, consistently improving productivity must support this hard work to be sustainable. Young, ambitious professionals spend lots of time focusing on getting things done without learning the craft.

Hard work can result in status, but it is not scalable or replicable without the pairing of systems and habits. These structures allow you to sustainably produce the same or higher level of output given an equal set of inputs – notably your time and energy.

High levels of hard work are difficult for most people to maintain over time without burn out. Therefore, focus on improving productivity by building such support structures.

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