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Why Having Integrity Makes You a Better Leader – And How to Get It

How to Get Integrity: Simple, Not Easy

The primary way that leaders gain influence is through demonstrating good character. For a lot of us, when we talk about character, the first thing we think about is integrity. Integrity is held in high regard in modern society, quoted by many organisations as a core value, and used as a word of judgment when people are found out to have done the wrong thing. People misattribute this excellent quote to C.S. Lewis, although no-one really knows who said it first:

Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.

J.C. Watts, an American politician, developed this further by saying:

There are too many people who think that the only thing that's right is to get by, and the only thing that's wrong is to get caught.

To be a person of integrity is to act in the way that someone would expect you to, if they heard the way that you talked. It’s the exact opposite of being a hypocrite. Integrity is demonstrated when Emily challenges Arthur to do something, and when she’s in the same situation, Emily does exactly what she challenged Arthur to do.

A Great Example of Integrity

I’m inspired by the bestselling author and church leader Rick Warren. He’s written the book that’s been translated into more languages than any other book in history other than the Bible, The Purpose-Driven Life. That’s success by anyone’s measure. Overnight, he went from being a local church pastor paid an average wage into one of the bestselling authors in history, with royalty cheques to match. The challenge, however, was that part of his book was about being generous, which is easy to judge others about when you don’t have much, and is much harder to do when you’re talking about your own hard-earned cash.

When I graduated I got a job that paid minimum wage, which left me almost homeless. Then, by complete accident, I ended up securing a job that more than doubled my salary. I’m pleased to say that I became more generous at that point, but it’s scarily easy to imagine myself having becoming less generous in order to enjoy my newfound wealth!

Rick Warren is more generous than I am.

Rick Warren didn’t just start to give more away. He calculated how much his church had paid him working his job for the past 26 years, and he paid the church that full amount in one lump sum. Even on a low wage, that would have been a huge amount of money. He then gave up his full salary and continued working for the church for free. And he set himself a new standard of generosity by giving away 90 percent of his royalty earnings to charity, and living on the remaining 10 ten. He still lives in the same house and drives the same sort of car as he did before.

You may not agree with the decisions Rick Warren made, and if you don’t I’m not going to fault you for believing that it’s ethical for hardworking people to be rewarded for their efforts. That said, you can’t fail to acknowledge that there walks a man of integrity. He told others to act in a certain way, and when he was truly tested, he acted in that exact way himself. How about you? There aren’t that many people who are given the opportunity to make the sort of radical decision that Rick Warren made, so your own experience may not be as extreme as his, so let’s apply the lesson as well as we can. We’re all faced with decisions around our integrity every day, and the right thing to do is always to say what we mean and mean what we say.

How much integrity do you have?

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the wealthy businessman who found his seat on a flight and got chatting to the attractive, single young lady sitting next to him. They got chatting, were having a pleasant time, and it turned out they were both staying in the same hotel for just one night when they landed. He therefore turned to her and asked, "If I paid you £1 million, would you sleep with me tonight?"

The young lady was a little taken aback at first, but thought about it, and said that yes, she would. The man smiled warmly and said, "Well, would you sleep with me for £100?"

She was shocked! "How dare you!" she said. "What do you think I am?"

"Oh, sorry," said the man, "I thought we’d already established what you are, I was just negotiating on the price."

When it comes to integrity, the simple truth is that we all have a price, influenced by the circumstances and the action in particular. Regardless of our personal views on ethics and morality, behind closed doors we all sit on a spectrum. Some of us give in more easily, some of us would take a great deal to compromise, and all of us have our own unique temptations and challenges. For you that might look like money, sex, power, or something else. We’re all different, so what is it for you? The biggest challenge with integrity is to be true to oneself.

Why It Matters

Integrity is hugely important in leadership. If you make a suggestion, attempt to move a conversation along or vocally support one particular idea over another, a big part of how people will be influenced by you will come down to your general dealing with all situations. If you’ve proven yourself to be a person of integrity, people are much less likely to suspect a hidden agenda.

This generation in particular has seen the world splitting along ethical lines. Compare the voices that are most commonly heard from Australia, Finland, Japan, Nigeria and the USA on things like sexuality, gender roles, gender identity and the best way to help the poor in society. We’re living at a point in history where within one country there are organisations who refuse to employ or even serve someone who’s openly gay because they consider it a sin, and others in the same country have been set up with the specific objective of convincing the world that being gay should be a source of pride. Where you would place yourself on that spectrum and which is a better outlook for society aren’t questions of integrity, however much you may personally feel that they are. Indeed, both of those organisations are acting with integrity, however much you or I may not like either or both attitudes, because their actions are wholly consistent with what they believe.

What you should do

So what does that mean for you? Standing up for what you believe – living with integrity – isn’t easy at the best of times because, as we saw earlier, everyone has a price. That’s made even more difficult when your personal beliefs aren’t aligned with those around you, and the nature of modern society is that the number of instances where that’s the case are only going to increase, simply because there are more, different beliefs around.

The solution is simple, but not easy: unapologetically say what you believe, and do what you believe - that takes courage...and that's a different character element from integrity.

The above is an edited, abridged excerpt from The Conflict Con. You'll really like it.

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