“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” – CS Lewis
Integrity. It’s a word we hear a lot in leadership, especially in ministry leadership. What has always baffled me about integrity, though, is that it is commonly talked about as “who you are when no one is looking.” If integrity is based on how we act when nobody else is around then how can other people honestly judge an individual as a person of high or low integrity?
Integrity is so much more than who a person is when no one is looking. Integrity is a character trait that serves as a foundation for what makes a person good…or bad. The personalities of a truly connected and self-aware leader like empathy, grace, commitment, honesty, and transparency all stem from our ability to lead with integrity.
If a person says that you have integrity as a leader it means that they have seen the fruits of it exemplified in you. If a person thinks that you lack integrity it will almost always be because they feel like you haven’t connected with them and truly understood them.
I recently worked with a leader who was one of the most upstanding people I have ever met. He was very careful with money, he always told the truth and worked very hard to be faithful to his position and to his family. The crazy thing, though, is that when I interviewed his staff every single one told me that they thought their leader suffered from a severe lack of integrity. They didn’t trust him, they walked on eggshells when he was in the room and all of them felt like he didn’t like them or believe in their ability to do their job. This all stemmed from the leader’s inability to display the fruits of integrity.
So what are the fruits of integrity? How can a person show that they are a person of character when no one is looking by who they are when people are looking?
1. Learn how to listen. If people don’t feel like you take time to listen to them and understand what they are saying they will most likely never look at you as a person of integrity. Are you formulating your next sentence while someone is talking to you? Are you looking at your phone while they are speaking? Do you look at them and summarize what they are saying and ask them if you understand them correctly? If you don’t do these things then many people will feel like you didn’t take the time to listen to them. I have found that most people will see you as a person of character if they feel listened to. They will feel this way even if you disagree with them.
2. Try to feel what they feel. When people speak to you they will almost always connect some form of emotion to what they are saying. If a person is communicating something that is important to them then it is your job not only to listen but to empathize with them. Empathy is feeling what someone else is feeling. When a co-worker tells you that something you did frustrated them because it caused more work for them, how do you respond? Do you defend yourself and essentially tell them that their feelings don’t matter or do you take time to put yourselves in their shoes and feel their frustration?
3. Be trustworthy. For you to build trust with people, you have to be vulnerable enough for them to identify with you, so that you are not like an alien to them. One of the most consistent struggles I see with leaders in faith circles is that they have a deep desire to be seen as having it all together. People want to follow a human being. It draws people to you when they know that you are on a journey just like everyone else in this world. People who have a need to be seen as more than they are, or to be admired as having it all together cannot be followed or trusted by others.
4. Be self-aware. A self-aware leader is always asking the question, “What is it like to be on the other side of me?” A person that is hungry to see the truth about him- or herself and then be willing to do the hard work of self-correction will almost always be viewed as a person of integrity. Every human has faults, weaknesses and distortions. As we grow, those should decrease but remember we will never be perfect.
When the people you lead see you as a person of integrity you will be able to connect on a level that is deeper and more fulfilling than ever before. Take some time today to consider how people view your integrity. Ask the people closest to you how you are doing in these areas then take the time to correct the things they might point out. You will be glad you did.