Integrity gaps, not skill deficiencies, initiate the fall of leaders.
leadership books and conferences focus on “above the water line”
leadership functions such as vision, problem solving, strategic
planning, resources and the like. While very important, these are
rarely the disqualifying factors in a leader’s life.
The issues that make or break a leader are “below the line”
issues of the heart. Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your
heart, for it is the wellspring of life!” The heart is also the
wellspring of leadership and integrity! A leader lacking certain skills
can do something about it—but if he lacks integrity, credibility
crumbles and the trust of others falls away.
We all want to know that those who lead us are people of
integrity, and we want to be considered the same by those we lead.
Let’s look at three essential components to developing a heart of
In their book, Credibility, James Kouzes and Barry Posner
write, “In virtually every survey we conducted (concerning the
characteristics of admired leaders), honesty was selected more often
than any other leadership characteristic…If people are going to follow
someone willingly, whether it be into battle or into the boardroom,
they first want to assure themselves that the person is worthy of their
trust…No matter where we have conducted our studies—regardless of the
country, geographical region or type of organization—the most important
attribute…has always been honesty.”
Ted Engstrom and Robert Larson give us a great picture of honest leadership in their book, Integrity:
For Coach Cleveland Stroud and the Bulldogs of Rockdale County High
School, it was their championship season: 21 wins and 5 losses on the
way to the Georgia boys’ basketball tournament last March, then a
dramatic come-from-behind victory in the state finals. But now the new
glass trophy case outside the high school gymnasium is bare. Earlier
this month the Georgia High School Association deprived Rockdale County
of the championship after school officials said that a player who was
scholastically ineligible had played 45 seconds in the first of the
school’s five postseason games.
“We didn’t know he was ineligible at the time; we didn’t know
it until a few weeks ago,” Mr. Stroud said. “Some people have said we
should have just kept quiet about it, that it was just 45 seconds and
the player wasn’t an impact player. But you’ve got to do what’s honest
and right and what the rules say. I told my team that people forget the
scores of basketball games; they don’t ever forget what you’re made of.”
That is integrity of heart! It’s characterized by honesty, even when
one could slide by without being found out. That kind of honesty is
grounded in a second component of a heart of integrity: moral conviction.
I was taught that some things are always right and some things
are always wrong. In other words, there are moral absolutes that
provide a sure leadership compass in any and every situation. When we
live with moral conviction and clarity, we are consistent and
predictable in our behavior and decisions, which produces trust in our
followers. However, when we exhibit a sliding scale in the conviction
department—i.e. we’ll lie, if and when it’s convenient, or we’ll cheat
when we feel we need to—we simply demonstrate to those around us that
we can’t be trusted.
A number of years ago I came across a quote attributed to a
political speechwriter for a particular candidate (who will remain
anonymous) that echoes much of what we have come to expect from the
political landscape: “Those are my views. If you don’t like them, let me know and I’ll change them.”
Whatever else you may or may not be, you are not a person of integrity
if your standards of moral conduct and conviction are based on opinion
polls. Integrity requires a truth-inspired and principle-centered ethic
that is not for sale. Where you have that, you’re more likely to have a
third vital component to a heart of integrity: alignment.
People of character are marked by consistency between word and
deed, between public and private. Ask yourself today: Am I a person of
character? Is there alignment between my walk and my talk? Are there
gaps between the image I project in public and the life I carry on in
Jesus Christ reserved some of his harshest words for people who
concerned themselves solely with external reputation and appearances,
but who were way off in terms of internal character. He called them
hypocrites. A few years ago I devised a couple of tests to help check
- The Homefront Test. Do I treat those close to me with the
same courteous treatment that I extend to strangers and casual
acquaintances? A true test of character today is what I’m like with
those who are closest to me. What would my kids and spouse say about me?
- The Hidden-Camera Test. Would you be embarrassed by a 24/7
video of your life last week? Were there places you went, things you
did, or words you said that would show that your walk and your talk are
out of line?
- The Private Conversations Test. What was it you called the
driver who cut you off? What was that juicy nugget of “info” you shared
about a coworker that you never would have uttered to her face? Do my
words about someone in private match my words before that same someone
How are you doing?
So how are you doing today? Do you have the heart of a leader: a
heart of integrity that is honest, ethical and aligned? There can be no
skimming or shortcuts here, because, sooner or later, our hearts will
be exposed. We owe it to ourselves and to those we lead to be people of
Yes, there’s more to leadership than integrity, but there is no
other foundation upon which to build a life that ensures a legacy of
respect and great influence in the lives of those we have led. IBI