Everywhere we look today, leadership has become the topic of every conversation. We want the strongest, most qualified people to lead our businesses, our communities, our schools and our nation. Powerful leadership is needed in America today and the world to deal effectively with a broad range of challenges.
Good character and integrity are the solid foundation of great leadership. Failure of leadership today is not the absence of competence or skills, but simply sustaining credibility and integrity with people. Character is a rare commodity now adays. Our culture has produced few enduring leaders, few people with leadership integrity.
The lack of integrity demonstrated by many politicians, entertainers, athletes and others in the public eye are almost beyond belief. History is full of examples of leaders that lacked character to sustain trust and credibility with the public.
Even more concerning is the fact that much of our society apparently does not want to lead; most people prefer to sit on the sidelines and not get involved—not take risks; they are comfortable or accepting the status que. Have we rewarded the right leaders? As Lee Iacocca (2007) asks in his book by the same title, Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
Good leaders must demonstrate the right virtues to lead effectively. They must demonstrate honesty, humility, authenticity, credibility, courage and accountability. But the most important leadership virtue is integrity. What is integrity? Dr. Gay Hendricks and Dr. Kate Ludeman in their book, “The Corporate Mystic, define integrity the following way, “The mastery of integrity comes down to three things: being authentic with yourself, being authentic with others, and doing the things you have said you would do.”
If I have to translate how they defined integrity, I would simply say, someone with integrity is someone who walks the talk. Words mean nothing unless they are backed up by your actions. At the heart of being a leader of integrity is a person who is consistent, honest, and has a moral compass through their behavior.
Leadership is influence, but we need leaders who can be trusted and act with integrity. Integrity is a critical factor in the performance of executives and managers. If you are in a leadership role, you have the power to influence people in your organization. When relationships in your organization are built on trust and integrity, you can be sure that your team will be able to reach higher performance. As Stephen R. Covey says, “Personal integrity generates trust and is the basis of many different kinds of deposits.” Lack of integrity can undermine many relationships.
Let me share with you four ways to develop your personal integrity as a leader:
Does your leadership reflect consistency of your values? Consistency takes the form of consistent behavior that aligned with your values. It’s one thing to talk about your values, but remember that people are watching what you do. When they can match the consistency of your actions, they can see it in your character. Consistency is about matching values with deeds.
Leadership behaviors that are associated with authenticity include self-awareness, self-mastery and commitment to on-going reflection. Authentic leaders reflect a high level understanding of their strength and weaknesses. Their actions are very consistent with their values. They have the humility to balance internal and external perspectives by being honest with themselves.
Accountability is an important aspect in order to create trust. When you don’t take responsibility for your actions, you might as well step down of your leadership role. Without accountability there is no trust and without trust, there is no leadership. By taking full ownership, you can be a leader who practice transparency by learning to share your mistakes.
Lead by example
To be truly effective as a leader with integrity, you must show the way. In other words, as leaders we must model the way and show the right way to lead. Great leaders recognize the impact of their attitudes and behaviors. When you lead by example, you earning your leadership stripes. Trust and integrity is awarded to those leaders who have consistency of their day to day actions. Leaders who say one thing but behave in a different way are seen as deceitful and insincere.
Harvey Mackay once said that, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters and if you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”