Leadership writing #2 Integrity & Character
We first looked at the importance of courage in stepping out into leadership. Without courage, we never act, and therefore never lead anyone anywhere. This next topic is just as important, but on the backend of our leadership. We often talk about ethics and values in our society, but we don’t really attach that to underlying integrity and strength of character. The reality is “values” cannot be detached from an underlying foundation of integrity built on a strong character. This means we are unable to hang some values on the wall and proclaim to adhere to them if they do not flow out of our personal integrity and character. They are mutually inclusive (I’ll not dive into the issue of whether “values” are a modern attempt to define morality dissociative of a biblical principles. You can talk about that amongst yourselves! Besides we all know the answer is 42 (send me an email if you got that joke!)). To succeed in the long-term as a leader you must be a person of integrity and character. Below are some specific points on integrity and character.
1. It starts with a God’s-eye perspective
In 1 Samuel 16 God specifically tells Samuel he sees the heart and not the outward appearance. We like to quote this verse often, but don’t live it out often enough in our own lives. We’re drawn to charisma and larger-than-life leaders. That is not inherently bad, but we must also examine the heart just as God does. To bring that even closer to home, what is your motivating drive? Is it about accolades and success? Are you motivated in your leadership based on Godly desires or human achievements? Being motivated to succeed is not wrong or in itself unhealthy. I firmly believe God desires us to be driven to do our best, but He desires our success to glorify Him and be motivated by Him.
On another level, when our hearts are truly following after God there is an inherent honesty and authenticity to what we do. Others see this very quickly. The leaders that I respect the most exhibit this authenticity explicitly. I’m convinced they do not sit around in the morning thinking of how they can appear authentic to those around them each. It flows naturally out of who they are, a foundation built on God’s perspective not man’s perspective.
King David first began to attract followers long before he became king of Israel. In fact he had hundreds of followers willing to live in caves and constantly flee the army of King Saul who was looking to kill David and his followers for 10 years. He did not have prestige or position. He had won some battles, but these were quickly overshadowed by Saul’s attempts on his life. He was a leader in these early years, because he was a man after God’s heart, a man of integrity inside and out. He understood his source was from God, and that is where David built his foundation as a leader.
2. Integrity is not always required for success
There are times we see folks around us achieve success and move up corporate leadership ladders, but their integrity and character is very suspect. We often wonder “why them?” This may be true, but success can still happen. We are all born with certain gifts and abilities. For some, those include the ability to make things happen and move projects and organizations forward on willpower and ability. Unfortunately, without an underlying foundation built on Godly integrity, these individuals are nearly always doomed to eventual failure. This is usually very painful for the individual and devastating to the organization and people. I have seen this happen over and over with church leaders. Their abilities drive explosive growth, which leads many to see them as strong leaders. But the success cannot be maintained without a strong foundation. It’s like an army that has the strongest tanks and the most ammunition storming across the countryside blasting everything in its path, only to find itself far from its supply bases and out of gas. At that point the enemy rallies a few troops together and destroys the attacking army that no longer has any ammunition to fight with. Our integrity and character are our supply. The smart military commander thinks logistics before tactics. They have the right equipment, they have the right mission, and they ensure they have the foundation to carry the fight all the way to the conclusion. Too many times we can have the right equipment and the right mission, but we don’t ensure the foundation: our character and integrity.
God cares much more about who we are than about what we have accomplished. In Matthew 10, Jesus tells of those who will come to the Judgment Seat and list all of their accomplishments yet Jesus will still say “I don’t know you.” His larger concern is not what they accomplished it’s about their heart. We must overcome the “success” mentality. God will bring the success, He controls the outcome. His plans will come to pass with or without us; His deeper desire is to see us love Him with all our heart, soul and mind. That is the foundation of integrity, regardless of success. At Ephesus Church, success without integrity holds no value whatsoever.
3. Those that follow leaders value integrity in that leader above all else.
I touched on this a little above. If you look at examples in your own life of whom you have followed I believe you will find this to be true. Those that cut corners, manipulate or more blatantly violate biblical principles do not hold our loyalty long. I have worked under both leaders of integrity and leaders of very suspect motives. Those leaders that have held integrity and character in high regard continue to influence me today. What’s important to note is that you will not necessarily agree with all the decisions of leaders placed over you, but if you trust the integrity of that leader you will wholeheartedly follow nonetheless. That is true of your own leadership. Buy-in flows out of integrity. If you have a direction you are looking to take your team be sure your heart and actions are based on integrity above all else. From there your team will follow you. When you have to make tough decisions or have audacious goals, begin with integrity and character in your life first and your team will be motivated to follow you.
4. Having strong character is hard!
Andy Stanley says, “character is the will to do what’s right, even when it’s hard.” When you have a goal you are working towards, there will often come opportunities to compromise and take shortcuts. In the short-run compromise may bring some success, but ultimately lack of character will cause the bottom to fall out. When mountaineers are climbing high mountains like Mt. Everest, they typically will determine a turnaround time. This is the time the climbers will give up their summit bid and return to high camp with an appropriate amount of safety margin. To be left exposed on a high peak overnight, because you were unable to return to camp, almost always leads to death or severe injury. But when you’re climbing and the sky is clear and the summit is in sight it becomes very easy to compromise on the turnaround time. Summit fever leads to poor decision-making by even the most experienced climbers. In 1996 several climbers on Mt. Everest ignored their turnaround time, they compromised and instead of heading back to the safety of their camp they pushed on. This caused them to still be on the mountain when night fell and an unexpected storm swept across the peak. Over the course of the next few days, 12 climbers lost their lives, because they compromised. Often when the goal is in sight, we’re the most tempted to take short cuts or compromise on our principles, often at the expense of our character. This was the case for those climbers on Everest in May 1996. It would have been much more difficult in the short run to turn around with the summit in sight. For many, this was an once-in-a-lifetime shot at standing on the highest peak in the world, they did not want to turn around! But the result was disastrous.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced a situation where they had to choose to take the easy path and compromise or maintain their Godly character in the face of extremely trying circumstances. Either they could denounce God and worship the Babylonian king, or they could stand with integrity and be thrown in a fire so hot it killed the guards tasked to throw them in. Living with integrity is hard!
5. Integrity and character are lifelong pursuits
Never can we say we’ve arrived and have all the character we’ll ever need. Building our foundation in integrity and character is not like building a retirement fund. We can’t just set a goal, achieve it, and then live off the interest the rest of our lives. No matter how much we strive for righteousness and become more like Jesus, we will always be tempted to shortcut our integrity and therefore must always be pursuing character in life and leadership. Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright will guide them, But the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them.” Always pursue integrity in all you do as a leader and in life. God promises to guide, direct and care for us when we do.