Are You Really a Leader of Integrity?

Leadership Excellence

By Pat Williams

You’ve probably heard that a key characteristic of a good leader is integrity. But what does that actually mean? The word integrity is widely used and widely misunderstood.

The origin of the word integrity helps to make the meaning clear. The word comes from the Latin integer, which means “whole” or “complete.” You may remember from your high school math classes that an integer is a number without any fractional part. Similarly, a person of integrity is honest and complete—he or she does not have any fractional part and is not compartmentalized or divided. People of integrity demonstrate wholeness and completeness because their actions match their beliefs. They are the same person in public and in private. Their inner reality matches their outer reputation.

Optimize magazine (Information Week’s magazine for corporate investment officers, which ceased publication in 2007) published a ten-point description of integrity in its May 2005 issue:

The Ten Universal Characteristics of Integrity:

  1. You know that little things count.
  2. You find the white when others see gray.
  3. You mess up, you fess up.
  4. You create a culture of trust.
  5. You keep your word.
  6. You care about the greater good.
  7. You’re honest but modest.
  8. You act like you’re being watched.
  9. You hire integrity.
  10. You stay the course.

When a leader has the character trait of integrity, his walk and his talk are totally aligned. Leaders who compro­mise their integrity may get away with it for a while. They can maintain a false facade for years. But no one gets away with it forever. Leaders who lack integrity are eventually exposed.
As leaders, we set the tone for our teams, our organi­zations, our military units, our churches, and our families. Leadership is influence, and we inevitably leave the imprint of our personalities on the organizations we lead and the people we meet. So the questions we have to ask ourselves are, “What kind of imprint am I leaving on this team? Do I want this organization, and everyone in it, to be just like me? Do I really want the people in this organization to exhibit all of my character traits—including my flaws?” Answer these questions honestly and you’ll soon be on your way to becoming a true leader of integrity.
Taken from Leadership Excellence by Pat Williams with Jim Denney with permission of Barbour Publishing.


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