The Integrity of Good Leadership
There are several elements or virtues required of good leaders. The one I shall address now is one seemingly in very short supply these days. It’s called integrity and if anything in our country, our government, our corporations and our families is collapsing it is integrity.
Among several definitions, it says in the dictionary under the word integrity to see the word honesty. There are other words mentioned like reputable, respectable, truthful, genuine and sincere. We will come back to sincere later. One can go into an endless cycle of discussing all these synonyms so let’s take a simpler shot at articulating all of this.
In simple terms, integrity comes down to doing what you say and saying what you do within some context of human decency. Those who become leaders that lack integrity are not leaders for long and the results of what they do are usually disasters for those who followed them and many others. Witness World War II and our current financial crisis.
A parent who says to a child “Listen to what I say, not what I do” is not displaying integrity. An angry parent when asked by their child, “What’s the matter Daddy?” who answers with a brusque “Nothing!” is not displaying integrity either. What’s worse is that children always know this. By now you would think we all should know you can’t fool a child. They haven’t yet lost the skill of reading faces and sensing emotional states. If we lack integrity as parents, all we create for our children is confusion. That would be bad enough but confusion often carries fear right along with it.
Being a good leader, especially a parent, requires not only the courage to act and do the right things even when these things are not popular; it also requires the integrity to be consistent. You may ask “Consistent in what way?” That’s a good q
uestion. The best answer I can think of is that you should strive to be consistent according to some decent, moral, ethical direction of your choosing.
Just like the parent, when politicians and corporate leaders lack integrity, and we have surely seen waves upon waves of this lately, all that is created in our corporations, companies and our country is confusion and potential ruin. Courage and integrity are very closely linked. It takes courage for a leader to have integrity in the first place and it takes integrity to consistently summon courage when it’s required.
In his wonderful book, “The Four Agreements”, Don Miguel Ruiz lists his first agreement, which is a kind of pact you make with yourself, as “Be Impeccable With Your Word”. It sounds easy but it’s not. It not only means you keep your word all the time every time. That’s hard to do it its own right. It also means that every time you open your mouth and speak, you make sure that no one gets hurt because of what you have said. Try getting through a whole day according to that code and you will get a good sense of its difficulty and, more importantly, its many benefits.
It’s been said that it is easy to form bad habits and hard to break them and it’s hard to form good habits and easy to break them. That’s why so many people become addicts and get lost, and why good leaders are so hard to come by. Let’s return to the word sincere. Did you know that in Latin the word sincere means “without wax?” It comes from the time in Roman markets for sculptured items, when defects in poorly done pieces were often cosmetically covered over with wax. They weren’t the genuine article. The best pieces were thus labeled “sine cere” or “without wax” so that customers would know they were not being deceived.
To find a good leader, find the one with courage who is without wax. To be a good leader, find that same path to within yourself. It will be worth every step.