The American society today is in a leadership crisis. This is true in the market place, the political arena, and the church. This deficit is in danger of causing the collapse of the American society if the deterioration continues unchecked. While the current generation has seen an explosion of technology, it has seen an implosion of integrity in leadership (McNeal, Reggie, 1997).
If leadership is to be defined as the ability to influence people then trust is the foundation for leadership. The United States has seen the rise and fall of many leaders in recent decades. Richard Nixon’s legacy was forever changed due to Watergate. Rather than being remembered for his foreign policy triumphs, he is forever remember for the Watergate scandal instead. This scandal so destroyed his credibility as a leader that he lost all influence and resigned in disgrace. The American people have never looked at their government leaders the same way. Another president who suffered integrity issues was Bill Clinton. Despite all his gifts and talents, questions about his integrity hounded him and undermined his leadership. In the corporate world, the Enron scandal was merely the beginning of a tsunami of corporate scandals which rocked the 1990’s. The list of scandal plagued corporations included Tyco International, Adelphia, Peregrine Systems, and WorldCom. These scandals cost investors billions of dollars and shattered public confidence in business leadership. Sexual harassment in the military academies caused people to question the integrity of these stalwart institutions caused people to distrust the nation’s military leaders. Finally, the church has been rocked with scandal which damaged the trust people had in church leadership. From the PTL scandal with Jim Baker in 1987 to the molestation of children by priests in the Catholic Church in more recent times, each scandal chipped away at the trust people placed in the church leaders. It is not possible for leaders to lose the trust of their followers then effectively influence those followers. This is known as the Law of the Solid Ground (Maxwell, John, 1998/2007).
According to leadership expert John C. Maxwell, integrity is the most crucial element of leadership. Without this vital element, leaders can not influence those who follow them. For leaders to have integrity, their actions must match their words. In current times, personal integrity is a quality that is crumbling into dust under the crushing weight of a culture which glorifies personal pleasure and shortcuts to success. Honesty from leaders is so refreshing to be seen in the public and private arenas because it has become so rare. Citizens’ expectations for their political leaders are now very low with a great deal of cynicism. Workers in the corporate settings do not trust their supervisors and seek to promote their own careers at any cost (Maxwell, John, 1993).
One definition of integrity is to be unified. Therefore, a person of integrity will not have divided loyalties nor are they actors. They do not suffer from duplicity or hypocrisy. They are single-minded in their pursuits. They are open and have nothing to hide (Maxwell, John, 1993). One of the greatest examples of this kind of integrity in modern times has been Billy Graham. With the failures of previous evangelists in mind, Graham set forth guidelines to insure his integrity so that his credibility as a preacher of the Gospel would not be drawn into question. His desire was not to do anything that would bring shame to Christ. Rigid accountability and standards in the areas of finances and sexual purity, avoiding criticism of other Christian workers, and avoiding exaggeration of statistics built Graham’s credibility. Those who encountered him were impressed with the lengths he was willing to go to insure his integrity enhanced his influence (Myra, Harold & Shelley, Marsha, 2005).
It cannot be stressed enough the importance of continuity between the actions of the leader and the words of the leader. Integrity is the leader’s navigation system used to navigate when making decisions. These are decisions which are made daily. Integrity lays the groundwork for making these decisions. Integrity pulls the person together and unites the personality into a whole. It provides for consistency in the personality which leads to consistency in decision making. Integrity is the foundation for that attribute known as character. This is what people are seeking from their leaders today. Maxwell writes, “What people need is not a motto to say, but a model to see” (Maxwell, John, 1993). Maxwell lays out seven elements of the credibility acid test which shows why integrity is so important.
Integrity Builds Trust
Leadership is not based on one’s position in an organization but in that person’s influence over subordinates. According to Pieter Bruyn, power for the leader does not flow from the organization but from the influence that leader has to convince people to recognize and accept that power. Simply, a leader must build and maintain credibility with his followers. Those leaders who rely upon the organization to give them the authority they need will never have sufficient authority to carry out their tasks because what they need is not authority from an outside source but to build influence through integrity so that they can influence people themselves. It is not the plate on the door that gives a leader the authority to lead but the trust of the people being led (Maxwell, John, 1993).
Integrity Has High Influence Value
The character of the leader will determine the character of the organization. The Billy Graham Association is an example of this principle. The very same standards and accountability to which Billy Graham held himself trickled down to those around him and in his organization (Myra, Harold & Shelley, Marsha, 2005). Experts now point out that integrity is the most necessary quality for business success. This is the quality according a survey of senior executives as the top quality which enhanced a leader’s effectiveness. Not only is this true in the business world but also in family life (Maxwell, John, 1993).
Integrity Facilitates High Standards
Leaders must hold themselves to a high standard. They cannot tell the followers to do as they say and not as they do. This mentality will quickly destroy credibility among followers. This idea of the leader having high standards is in contradiction to worldly standards. People seek privilege and perks as they advance up the corporate ladder (Maxwell, John, 1993). Sadly, the only ones who win the rat race are the rats. Leaders must show their integrity by doing all tasks given to them with maximum effort. Leaders are not concerned about the size of the task, the potential rewards, or who will receive the credit for completing the task. Leaders stay the course to complete their mission (Fogleman, Ronald, 2008). If leaders set high personal standards then the organization they led will have high standards.
Integrity Results in a Solid Reputation, Not Just an Image
Abraham Lincoln told the story of a farmer who admired a huge tree that was growing next to his house. One morning, as the farmer admired the tree, he noticed a squirrel running up and down the tree then disappearing into a hole in the tree. Curious, the farmer peered into the hole to discover this huge tree was hollow. This tree was a threat to fall on his house with a strong wind (Fogleman, Ronald, 2008). Image is what is presented to the outside world while integrity is what is on the inside. As long as there is congruity between the two, there is no problem for the leader (Maxwell, John, 1993). However, if these two elements are not in sync then this leader is like the tree in Lincoln’s story. Just like the tree, this type of leader may be huge, impressive, and admired for the outward appearance but hollow inside in danger of falling in the storms of life.
The Importance of Integrity in Leadership
Leaders are not able to lead people any farther than they have been. When it comes to integrity, there are no shortcuts in the process. Shortcuts can have disastrous results. This fact points to the importance of the process in development. Development is a daily process with goes on day by day (Maxwell, John, 1993).
This is the Law of Process. Simply stated, the Law of Process is defined as the daily development of the leader. This is likened to investing in the stock market. Those who try to make a fortune in a day fail but those who invest day by day for the long haul will be successful. It is also true in leadership development. Leadership is developed over the long haul. Integrity is built over the long haul (Maxwell, John, 2007). Maxwell recalled a memory from his younger days when he played basketball. It seemed his coach had the mantra, “You play like you practice; you play like you practice.” Maxwell warns that leaders fail to follow this same principle in their lives they fail to reach their full potential. Maxwell further warns that these leaders will soon lose credibility with their subordinates (Maxwell, John, 1993).
Integrity Helps a Leader Be Credible, Not Just Clever
Cleverness relies upon tricks and gimmicks which never lasts. Clever leaders never last. History is littered with fallen leaders who relied upon their guile rather than integrity. Leaders must earn trust to be effective. Sincere leaders do not have to convince their subordinates of their sincerity (Maxwell, John, 1993). Integrity is sincere and gives no false appearance. These are leaders whose words match their actions. General Wilbur Creech, commander of the United States Tactical Air Command in the 1980’s, embodied integrity. One story that is told about him was when he conducted an inspection of a base, he found the supply sergeant sitting in a chair held together with electrical tape and propped up with a brick. When asked why he had such a chair, the general was informed that there were no new chairs for sergeants. The general assured the man that the situation would be resolved. Creech sent the chair to the general of logistics at Langley Air Force base and told him that the broken chair was his until he resolved the sergeant’s problem. While the sergeant waited for his new chair, the general’s chair would be used by the sergeant. General Creech’s words matched his actions. This had two beneficial effects. First, it enhanced the loyalty of the soldiers towards him. Second, it enhanced the loyalty of the soldiers to the Air Force (Fogleman, Ronald, 2008). This is how integrity helps a leader.
Integrity is a Hard Won Achievement
Strength of character is not won overnight. It is a rare commodity in a world focused on instant gratification. The modern world is lacks role models of integrity. The meaning of integrity has been corrupted by culture. With reality shows promoting values antithetical to the idea of integrity, it is no small wonder that people no longer know the meaning of the word. To test one’s integrity individuals must simply ask if they are being true to themselves, their leaders, and their followers.
The lack of integrity in all aspects of modern culture has created a leadership vacuum. This lack of integrity has created divided loyalties, hypocrisy, and ambiguity. Integrity stresses the importance of unity of the personality and wholeness of the person. For leaders to be effective, they must have influence. To have influence, they must have integrity. To have integrity, the leader’s words must match her actions.
Fogleman, Ronald R. (August 24, 2008). The Leadership-Integrity Link. Retrieved November 25, 2008 from http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/au-24/fogleman.pdf 69
Maxwell, John C. (1993). Developing the Leader Within You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Maxwell, John C. (2007). The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (Tenth Anniversary ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. (Original work published 1998)
McNeal, Reggie. (1997). Revolution in Leadership: Training Apostles for Tomorrow’s Church. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Myra, Harold & Shelley, Marshall. (2005). The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.