What is integrity? And why is it important for leaders? The word “integrity” comes from the word “integer” – remember those whole numbers in math? To have integrity means to be whole.
When we are whole leaders, we practice what we preach. Leaders whose inner and external lives are consistent have a greater impact, whatever their arena. This applies to our physical, emotional and spiritual lives. A leader who eats decently has energy to get through the day. A leader who is emotionally aware recognizes the range of emotions in himself and can express them appropriately. A leader who preaches the value of spiritual life knows she needs to have one herself.
When we are whole leaders, we have clear boundaries. We know what we will and won’t do. We are able to say a clear “yes” and “no” to obligations. We are less vulnerable to being manipulated. We are not hypersensitive to criticism, because we know it’s not necessarily about us. All this is much easier said than done, of course. Just the other day I took on a new responsibility I had said I wouldn’t do. Perhaps none of us are completely whole.
I was reminded recently about an applied mathematician I met once. I wrote about this years ago, and I think it’s worth saying again. He explained to me that while people usually think things break suddenly, that is not necessarily true. When something breaks, it is part of a process: microcracks begin, and then join together to make macrocracks, and ultimately a fracture occurs. This is more likely to happen under stress (for example, heat), which reduces the flexibility of structural materials.
At times of heightened anxiety (read, now), we are more vulnerable to “stress fractures” in our integrity – whether it’s making an ethical compromise, neglecting time to rest or pray, or saying yes to yet one more unnecessary obligation or difficult individual. Watch out for signs of cracks in your own life and leadership. Notice the decisions you are making every day so they can support wholeness on every level.
People are different than structures, because we can heal. Most of us have been broken in some ways, small and large. And when we are paying attention to ourselves, we are more likely to catch the small fractures so they don’t become a huge collapse in our integrity.
Here are some questions to consider as you assess your own wholeness as a leader:
1. When is the last time I spent time alone to reflect on my life?
2. Am I doing anything to support my physical health?
3. What am I telling people to do that I don’t do myself?
4. Do I do what I say I will do?
5. Am I too available? Or not available enough?