The Leadership Challenge® builds the foundation of leadership on the practice of Model the Way. Setting the example for others begins by being very clear about the values, philosophy and beliefs that you are willing to advocate and possibly give your life for. I’ve given many presentations to youth and adults about the most highly sought after values that we identify in good leaders. I pose the question to participants, “what do you think is the most revered and sought after traits that makes a good leader and what value drives the success of strong leaders?” Integrity always ends up within the top four of the list. Why do we hold integrity at the top of the list? Is it because we are good at it and actually practice this value everyday of our lives or is it because we are challenged by its complexities time and time again in every situation and through life’s experiences?
I’ve also asked students if they think lying is sometimes the right thing for an honest person to do. Of course, responses are always a resounding, “Definitely not. Never!” Then I describe three real-life situations where acting in strict honesty would cause serious damage to people or even loss of life. Most people don’t think about honesty in this context. Why have people never thought seriously in a below-the-surface way about integrity and honesty? The first step in building integrity begins with being honest about dishonesty. Overcoming self-deception and becoming aware of the anatomy of integrity is an essential first step to creating a house of integrity. If honesty in our society is going to improve, its’ not going to start with Enron, Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, or the competitor down the street. Only when I recognize that it starts with me, will progress be made. People continue to cite others’ dishonesty and seldom focus on the times they themselves have been untruthful. The reality is that there are varying degrees of truth in integrity that many people tight rope across within their daily lives. Some decisions are difficult to make when forced to consider the various perspectives that drive the question, “are you being completely and utterly honest?” I’ve found in many instances and in history, that if one is unsure or unclear of their intentions and perspectives, integrity can be a very fine line to cross, often leaving casualties to the self and others.
After years of life experience, I’ll be the first to say that I have in no way been a diligent advocate of integrity through truth. Quite the contrary, I have seen my fair share of bad choices—choices that have questioned my integrity and honesty. I’ve made mistakes and fumbled through life like many of us do. I am as human as one can get, with all the flaws and dysfunctions rolled into a person. I am also liberated by knowing my dishonesty, deficiencies and challenges. That knowledge allows me to accept failure in order to grow and recognize truth. True integrity is the willingness and ability to recognize that truth exists in every person, situation and thought. To be truthful is to live in the highest integrity possible. When we lose truth, we unravel the many threads of integrity that make each of us a solid weave of good choices and honesty. The ability to acknowledge our flaws and inconsistencies is the path to true integrity. By recognizing our dishonest acts we allow an opportunity for self-realization and self-correction.
Let’s start the New Year with being true to integrity. Clear the closets, sweep the dirt out, and be willing to reveal yourself to the universe. Mend relationships, build bridges and give your soul a chance to breathe, live in harmony and be true to your conscience. Join me in constantly questioning our integrity. Remember, forcing yourself to think happy lies doesn’t heal your dreams. Getting to the truth does.
Remember, knowing does not equal doing. The Leadership Challenge® is a great investment if you are looking to increase tangible leadership behaviors for you and the people you interact with everyday.