I want to talk to you about integrity in your leadership, but in order to hit my target I need to rework what the word integrity means. Let me do this by quoting a paragraph from Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men.
The army of ancient Rome used this word [integrity] almost daily in its inspection ritual. A commander would walk the line of legionnaires, inspecting each man to confirm that he was fit for duty. As the commander came before one of his men, the soldier would sweep his fist hard into the middle of his chest, just over his heart, and shout “Integras!” The commander first listened for that rich, full quality of a healthy soldier’s voice and then he listened for the clang that well-kept armor would emit when struck. The two sounds–the man’s voice and the condition of his armor–confirmed the integrity of the soldier.
I love this example from history. I like the image of a soldier’s health and readiness being signaled by him slamming his armor and shouting, “Integras,” the ancient word that gives us our word integrity. It reminds me that integrity radiates in the things I do.
Have you ever looked someone in the eye and said something like, “I have never lied to you. You can trust me and you know that”? At that moment, you were standing in your integrity. You were asking the other person to recognize your character. You wanted them to consider your history of honest dealing with them. You likely felt strong at that moment. You felt whole, maybe even pure. It was powerful. That’s what integrity feels like.
Here is the all-important point. The power of integrity is a major part of the power of a good leader. They conduct themselves in a thoroughly honest, consistent manner. It is reflected in all they do. Those who follow count on it, are inspired by it, trust in it. That spirit permeates the organization. This is great leadership.
Let me tell you what can threaten integrity. It is the way we manage our image in a social media world. We can present whatever image we want. We can shade the truth and no one will know. We can make untrue claims that will never be challenged. The problem is not just the lies we tell online, perhaps, but the way distorting the truth bleeds over into other areas of our lives. I might distort truth to get out of an engagement I hope to avoid. I might do it to enhance my reputation. I might do it to lessen the blow when dealing with an employee.
But what is happening to my soul? What is happening to my sense of myself? What have I done to that sense of purity and power that I have when I lead in integrity?
And here is a truth we often miss. Just like integrity of the kind that radiated from the Roman soldier in our example, it radiates from us, too. People know, they sense, whether we are truthful and solid in character or not. They can feel the insecurity and instability of a man or woman who lacks integrity. On the other hand, they are drawn to the power and strength of a leader with integrity.
I want you to be strong and inspiring, pure and powerful. Much of this could be as simple as telling the truth, all the time and in every way. Then, and only then, will you be able to stand in your integrity and see it radiate in all you do.