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The Value of Integrity in Leadership

“Who a person is will ultimately determine if their brains, talents, competencies, energy, effort, deal-making abilities, and opportunities will succeed.”* – Dr. Henry Cloud

I love that quote from Dr. Cloud because it highlights the powerful nature of integrity. He says it’s critical because the degree to which you have it will ultimately determine how far your other strengths will take you.

What is Integrity?

The problem I run into when I engage others around the topic of integrity in leadership involves a limited definition of the word. When most people think about integrity, they normally think about ethics. Someone who doesn’t steal, tells the truth and pays their taxes would qualify according to that definition. All those things are true, but I want to expand on that.

Let’s look at Webster’s definitions of integrity. If you look at the first definition of integrity, you will see an adherence to a moral code. That’s the ethics side of things. The second and third definitions bring wholeness to what integrity is:

  1. firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility
  2.  an unimpaired condition: soundness
  3.  the quality or state of being complete or undivided: completeness

Notice that one keyword is  “soundness” while another is “the quality or state of being complete or undivided.” When I say complete, I don’t mean complete in the sense of having a complete set of skills or gifts. Integrity is not about having all the skills, competencies, or gifts in the world in order to be “complete.” No one person has that.

It’s about consistency in life — being a person whose moral compass doesn’t shift with the changing of the environment or the pressure of a situation. It’s about reliability in how you relate to others; you can’t be Dr. Jekyll one day and Mr. Hyde the next. There is also consistency in how you achieve results at work. You work hard whether your boss is there or not because that is who you are. You have a consistent set of core values that intermingle into all areas of life.

When you tie sound ethics and reliability together you get a much more complete definition of integrity.

A simple and easy-to-remember definition of integrity is doing the right things in a reliable way.

I like that definition better because it turns integrity into ethics and reliability. To have real integrity, there needs to be both.

Integrity in Leadership

I wrote earlier that integrity in leadership is critical because the degree to which you have it will ultimately determine how far your other strengths will take you. Something that represents this really well is steel.

All steel has a critical temperature. The critical temperature is the temperature at which it cannot safely support its load. Building codes and structural engineering standard practice defines different critical temperatures depending on the structural element type, configuration, orientation, and load capabilities of the steel.

Steel loses its strength when heated sufficiently or when it’s put under a certain amount of stress. It doesn’t matter how sleek, modern, and amazing a building is if the steel structural supports don’t hold up under pressure.

Imagine going to rent an apartment on the coast of Florida. It looks amazing on the outside and has unbelievable amenities. You then ask, “Is it built to withstand hurricanes and strong storms?” If the answer is, “Well, not really. We cut some corners foundationally to make sure we had the cash to add the party deck on the top floor,” my guess is you would say thanks and move on. Ultimately, it won’t stand and fulfill its purpose.

People are no different. It doesn’t matter how talented a salesman you are or how much of a whiz you may be when it comes to coding if you can’t be trusted. The level of your character and integrity dictates how far your natural skills can take you. A lack of integrity will always catch up with you in the long run.

Be intentional to identify gaps and grow in your integrity in leadership today.

*Dr. Henry Cloud, Integrity (New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), pg. 8. 

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Justin Harris is the COO of Wildsparq leader development and FireSeeds recruiting, located in Birmingham, AL. He is committed to helping companies and organizations enhance culture and multiply leaders. You can contact Justin directly at justin@fireseeds.com.