In his book, Developing the Leader Within You, John C. Maxwell (1993) states, “Integrity is not what we do so much as who we are” (p. 32). The word integrity means, having moral soundness in the sense of being whole or complete. It comes from the word integer, which means a whole number. In a literal sense it is a number that is untouched, nothing taken from its completeness, bound together in oneness. Integrity is one of the most important ingredients for effective leadership. This is an internal matter, an attitude of the heart. It is the highest level of honesty, as it pertains to how one lives everyday, rather than simply a reference to an incident or singular occasion. Effective leaders, that exhibit integrity, will raise the bar and go beyond simply being successful, as they know there is a difference. One measures a successful leader by their external exploits or how they behave, while effective leadership deals with the internal state and attitude of the leader or their integrity. Integrity is a way of life for the effective leader.
It is an Issue of Trust
For Christian leaders, integrity requires consistency with biblical principles. One of the basic principles of integrity is trust. Many use the phrase, “You can trust me!” as if trust is an automatic response that takes place simply at their word. The truth of the matter, you earn the trust of others. John Maxwell (1998) argues, “Trust is the foundation of leadership. To build trust, a leader must exemplify these qualities: competence, connection, and character”(p. 58). Leaders can make mistakes along the way, and people will forgive them based on the notion that the leader is growing. However, if a leader’s character is flawed, trust will be lost. This is a serious issue. Trust is the glue that holds any organization together; the lubricant that allows it to run smoothly. When people can no longer trust their leader, the results are: fear, anxiety, suspicion, and insecurity. On the other hand, when the leadership is trusted, fear is counteracted, anxiety lifted, and people feel safe, hopeful, and energized. In this atmosphere of trust, everyone is free to contribute fully, offering innovative solutions, acting with initiative, taking appropriate risks, and voicing personal viewpoints openly. When there is a high level of trust in the leader, followers are more productive, and there is more creativity among the team.
The Highest Standard
Effective leaders follow a set core of principles that empower them to behave consistently to high standards. These core principles of integrity consist of virtues such as: compassion, dependability, generosity, honesty, kindness, loyalty, maturity, objectivity, respect, trust, and wisdom. These virtues are necessary and of great value to those in leadership. A person of integrity consistently sets the standard high for him or herself, knowing this will assist others in raising their character standards as well, and they are careful to never proclaim high standards of behavior today and compromise them tomorrow (Ducoff, 2009).
In today’s culture, image is everything. Corporations pay millions of dollars for sports figures to endorse their product, because their image sells. Not long ago, the news of Tiger Woods’ infidelity crushed the image that he created as the greatest golfer, and the perfect husband and family man. The double standard set by prominent figures is most unsettling, especially when it invades the sacred arena of the church pulpit. For example, when a minister can stand before a congregation declaring how they should live, but privately lives opposite of the words they preach—this is the epitome of hypocrisy. Effective leaders recognize that image is what people think a leader is, and integrity is what a leader really is (Maxwell, 1993). As long as there is congruency between the two, there is no problem for those in leadership, but when a leader’s main concern is image, it is simply a matter of time before they destroy their image and topple over because of the lack of integrity.
Living it Before Leading it
The effective leader who develops integrity understands that they cannot lead further than they have gone. They know there are not shortcuts to being an effective leader. Leaders who circumvent the process of growth end up stalled. Effective leadership requires daily development. Maxwell calls this the Law of Process. Leadership integrity demands one to take the time to develop the necessary skills to lead others effectively. For example, without the proper training, it is next to impossible to run a marathon. Nevertheless, with the proper training, they can develop the endurance and cross the finish line. Once a person experiences what crossing the finish line is like, they can assist others in the process of developing the necessary skills to cross the finish line. The leader, that is willing to take the time to grow, will be able to take others through the process with confidence.
Credibility Not Cleverness
The word integrity originates from the word sincerity. The Greek word for sincerity is εiλικρίνεια, ας. It means, “The quality of sincerity as an expression of pure or unadulterated motives—‘sincerity, purity of motives’”(Louw and Nida, 1996). Robert Jamison (1997) argues that sincerity implies the absence of any foreign element. In ancient times, it was customary to place wax to hide imperfections in pottery and furniture. To discover if there were foreign elements such as wax in the pottery, a person would hold it up in the direct sunlight. If the pottery or furniture were indeed sincere, the sunlight would show its beauty. If there were cracks or imperfections, the sun would reveal the flaws. J. Oswald Sanders (1994) stated, “Surely the spiritual leader must be sincere in promise, faithful in discharge of duty, upright in finances, loyal in service, and honest in speech” (p. 62). Effective leaders develop a character and actions that are sincere.
Effective leaders know that at the end of the day, the only way to truly acquire integrity is living honestly, working daily through every situation of life, self-discipline, and developing a reliance of trusting in the Lord. This present microwave culture promotes values hostile to integrity. Effective leaders know that integrity is not a gift found under the Christmas tree or based on how much they earned last quarter. In fact, it is not difficult to discover that a leader has integrity, simply ask those they work with and then talk to their spouse and children. See if they act the same on and off the job. If so, the chances are that they are effective in their leadership and have integrity.
Integrity is the most important ingredient of effective leadership. Sadly, there is a lack of integrity in the present culture, which creates divided loyalties, hypocrisy, and ambiguity. Nevertheless, effective leaders work hard at developing a life of integrity. They are authentic, ethical, and trust Christ in all things. The effective leader that exhibits integrity will be the same in private, as when they are in public. Integrity stresses the importance of an agreement between the image seen and the inner person not seen. Leaders must strive to be more than simply successful in this culture. They must strive to be effective in their leadership. To do so, they must have integrity.
Ducoff, Neil. No Compromise Leadership, The High Standard of Leadership Thinking and Behavior, Sanford, FL.: DC Press, 2009.
Louw Johannes P. and Nida, Eugene Albert. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.
Maxwell, John C. Developing The Leader Within You, Nashville, TN., Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993.
________ The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership, Nashville, TN., Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.
Sanders, Oswald J. Spiritual Leadership, Principles of Excellence For Every Believer. Chicago, IL.: Moody Press, 1994.
Ricketts, K. G. (2009). Competent leaders: What effective leaders do well. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension, 1(101), 1-7. Retrieved from http://www.ca.uky.edu
Robert, Jamieson, Fausset, A. R., A. R. Fausset et al. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on The Old and New Testaments. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.