Nature and Style of Leadership: Integrity

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Integrity
Developing the Leader Within You

There are many ingredients that have to come together for a person to be a good leader. However, there is one ingredient that a leader can’t be without. Integrity is defined by Webster as “the quality or state of being complete or undivided.” A leader can only lead if they are who they say they are, if their actions and words line up.

As a society, we have watched many big corporations and leaders crumble. The root source of these downfalls is always compromise. They were trying to take a shortcut or make up for a mistake. I love the quote by Andy Stanley, “Leadership is stewardship, it’s temporary and you’re accountable.” Leadership does not last forever, but we are accountable for the choices we make while we lead.

John Maxwell is well known as the author of 21 Laws of Leadership and many other leadership books. For our class, we are reading, Developing the Leader Within You. In the book, Maxwell talks about ten different aspects of leadership, but he calls integrity the most important ingredient. He points out the fact that “integrity allows us to predetermine what we will be regardless of circumstances, persons involved, or the places of our testing.”

Maxwell unpacks the critical component of integrity over seven points. His first point is that integrity builds trust. If people are going to respond to your leadership, they have to be able to trust you. There are going to be several times in an organization when it is impossible to reach a consensus opinion. Those are the times that you as the leader must step in and make the decision. If you are a person of integrity, your team will trust you. Even if they don’t agree with the decision you made, they can support it because they believe you made it in the best interest of the organization. There are going to be times when people will follow you simply because they trust you.

Living a life of integrity gives you a chance to influence people. J.B. Miller said, “There have been meetings of only a moment which have left impressions for life…for eternity. No one can understand that mysterious thing we call ‘influence’…yet everyone of us continually exerts influence, either to heal, to bless, to leave marks of beauty; or to wound, to hurt, to poison, to stain other lives.” Every one of us can name people in our lives that influenced us either positively or negatively. The mark they made on our life was a result of the life that they were living. Our leadership is a direct result of how we were led at one point or another.

Integrity facilitates higher standards. In his book Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Leroy Elms says, “A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do.” When you sign up to lead, you are signing up for responsibility and accountability. The buck stops with you. Integrity means that you are not willing to compromise your character in favor of being successful or popular. It means that you are who you say you are, no matter the situation or the consequences.

Integrity results in a solid reputation, not just image. We can all think of people who look successful in the world’s eyes. In many cases, you don’t have to dig too far to see their skeletons. Many great leaders have fallen from their pedestals because they do not have a strong foundation of faith and integrity. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” A true leader knows that it is more important to have solid character than it is to be successful in the world’s eyes.

That isn’t as easy as it sounds. Living a life of integrity means making some hard choices about the way you spend your time and the people that you spend it with. Every choice you make and every situation you find yourself in speaks volumes about your integrity. Maxwell points out three questions you can ask yourself to see if you are focused on building your image or building integrity. Are you the same person no matter who you are with? Do you make decisions that are best for others when another choice would benefit you? Are you quick to recognize others for their efforts and contributions to your success? If you answered no to any of those questions, you need to take a good hard look at the reason you are leading. Is it to honor Christ or to honor yourself?

Integrity means living it myself before leading others. I cannot lead others to do what I cannot do myself. I am a high school basketball coach. I cannot coach my team unless I know something about basketball. Many leaders make the mistake of leading out of their weaknesses rather than their strengths. That can happen when you are trying to be popular or to take the easy way out. Your lack of preparation for the task at hand will always be found out. Sometimes it is found out early and there is little fallout, if it takes longer for you to be exposed, there are usually many that go down with you.

I am reminded of the Enron collapse of 2001. Enron employed 22,000 people and claimed revenues of $111 billion just the year before. However, some key leaders made the decision to engage in accounting fraud, a practice that caused the company to have to file bankruptcy. Most of the 22,000 Enron employees lost everything. They lost all their money, homes, cars, retirement, and much more all because someone tried to take a shortcut. The sad part is that the people who made those decisions were already making more money than they could have spent in a lifetime. They sacrificed the well being of others in favor of their own happiness.

Integrity helps a leader be credible, not just clever. Many people can finagle their way into leadership by being smooth and knowing all the right people. Eventually people will look behind the curtain. If there is no substance there, you can’t cover that up by being clever or cute. What you say must be consistent with what you do or people will not follow you. They may enjoy hanging out with you or playing golf with you, but they will not follow you the way a person should follow a leader.

When you lead with integrity, you don’t have to spend all of your time defending yourself. The truth will always rise to the top. Rather than having to prove yourself, you will be proven by the fact that you purpose in your heart to do the right thing and God will honor that. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.

Integrity is a hard-won achievement. You don’t just wake up one morning full of integrity. There isn’t a special pill that you can take; integrity is a day-to-day, often moment-to-moment, decision that you make. Jesus spoke of this in Mark 8:34-35, “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

If you Google the word integrity, most of the results that come up have to do with people who lived a long time ago. We think of the founding fathers of our country and other historical figures. We look to the past to find examples of integrity. Our generation is more focused on what you can do for me and what I have to do to get to the top. As leaders, we have a chance to change that.

Integrity is a choice that you make to live on the outside who you are on the inside. A value is an ambiguous concept that governs human behavior. A belief is a statement that communicates value. Is the way you live your life communicating your values and beliefs? Does the way you treat others communicate that Christi reigns supreme in your life? When people follow your leadership, does it cause them to value Christ more or does it drive them further away?

Leading with integrity means being consistent. You have to have an awareness of what is right and what is wrong. Make your plan up front about the choices you are going to make. In his book Good to Great Jim Collins says, “Consistency distinguishes the truly great…rigorous clarity not just about what to do, but equally, what not to do.” If you want to be a great leader, decide that integrity is a non-negotiable component of your character.

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