Archive for December 2014

Live with Integrity

When I was in elementary school (I think it was the fourth grade), I had an experience that opened my eyes to the importance of integrity.  If you would have asked me at that age what the word “integrity” means, I’m sure I would have had no idea, but this event helped me to realize the concept, even if I didn’t understand the vocabulary.  Although I don’t recall all the details, it became one of those defining moments of childhood that was seared into my memory.

Another child in my grade (he was not even someone who was part of my close group of friends) got in trouble for something and was sent to the principal’s office.  I don’t remember what he was accused of doing, but I do remember getting called to the principal’s office shortly after he was.  I was terrified, assuming that I must have done something wrong, but I had no idea what I might have done.  When I got to the office, I was escorted in, where I saw the other student sitting in a chair.  When he saw me, he turned and looked at the principal and said, “Please ask Jeff, he doesn’t lie, he always tells the truth!”

As it turns out, he had been accused of something that he had not done, and although I was simply another classmate, he chose to put his life in my hands, so to speak, because he trusted my integrity.  And the principal trusted me too!  It seems that, as an elementary student, I had developed a reputation of honesty among my peers and my teachers.  In my heart, I knew – even at that age – that I could lie as well as anyone and that I often made bad choices, but it was also a revelation to me that my choices of honesty at school had impacted how others viewed me and trusted me.  I played that event over in my mind many times during the next months, amazed at the realization of how important it was to have integrity.

But some heads are harder than others (mine in particular), and sin nature still gets in the way, so this was not a “one and done” lesson for me.  A couple of years later, I was in a convenience store with some friends, and took a candy bar from the shelf and put it in my pocket.  I did not have any money to pay for it, but I really wanted it and I was certain no one saw me.  We left the store and walked across the road to the church where my father was the pastor, and when we walked inside, my dad called me into his office.  He asked me if I had anything to tell him, and I said no.  He had me empty my pockets, and when he saw the candy bar, I told him I had bought it at the store.  What I didn’t know was that the store clerk, who knew my dad, had seen me take the candy bar and had called my dad.  I was caught and didn’t know it, and I lied.  I remember flashing back in my memory to my fourth grade experience of honesty, and realizing that it’s pretty easy to lie, but that integrity takes work, and I had failed the test of integrity.

The Bible has a lot to say about integrity.  Sometimes it’s called honesty, sometimes uprightness, sometimes blamelessness, sometimes righteousness.  There are numerous verses in Proverbs that speak to it directly, there are many illustrations of it (both positive and negative) lived out in the lives of Bible characters.  Jesus Himself is the personification of it (“I am the way, the truth, and the life”).  Therefore I don’t think anyone would dispute that it is a necessary character trait for any Christian. I do think, though, that it may help us to see a picture of what it actually is.

Several months ago, I was visiting the church where I had grown up, and attending a small group class that my dad was teaching.  He happened to be teaching on integrity.  His outline listed a number of verses, among them the following:

  • I Chronicles 29:17 – I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.
  • Proverbs 10:9 – Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.
  • Proverbs 11:5-6 – The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires.
  • Proverbs 20:7 – The righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them.
  • Proverbs 28:6 – Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse.

 

As he was teaching, I started searching online on my phone for the specific meanings of the Hebrew words in those verses, and I discovered something that I found to be very interesting.  It seemed that all of the words in those verses that were related to integrity appeared to come from variations on one of two different Hebrew root words: yashar and tamam.  I looked up the meanings of those two words and learned that yashar means straight, even, level, correct, or upright, and that tamam means complete, whole, entire, or completeness.  In combination, they give the idea of something that is completely and totally true and upright, not warped, and without falsehood.

So think about those meanings: straight and level, whole and complete.  That sounds like a good description of integrity.  The opposite would be crooked and uneven or wobbly, fractured and incomplete.  Then think about those ideas in the context of integrity: not telling the whole story, giving a half-truth, intentionally misleading, using or providing faulty information, sending someone down a wrong path – these are all things that reflect a lack of integrity. And they are all things that don’t belong in the character of a godly leader. This is the crux of ethics in leadership – maintaining integrity in all circumstances.  It’s difficult, especially in high-pressure environments, but necessary as a representative of Jesus Christ.  You have a responsibility and an opportunity to model integrity, and in so doing you will become a trusted leader that others are willing to follow.  As a Christian leader, you don’t have a choice: live with integrity.

Week of December 29, 2014

Quotable (Dr. Jeff McMaster, on leading with integrity)

“Integrity matters. People will not follow a leader they do not trust, and their level of trust is directly connected to the leader’s integrity.”

 

Dr. Jeffrey S. McMaster, Lead with Integrity

Lead with Integrity

In the classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart plays the role of George Bailey, son of the founder of the Bailey Building and Loan Association. George’s life is marked with a number of moments of self-sacrifice and responsibility, but it is the contrast between his character and that of Mr. Potter, local businessman and bank owner who serves as the chief competitor to the Building and Loan, that provides a striking picture of integrity.

At some point in the story, George’s Uncle Billy takes a deposit from the Building and Loan to Mr. Potter’s bank, but in a moment of emotional response to Mr. Potter, he unwittingly misplaces the deposit in the banker’s folded newspaper. This is where the contrast in integrity becomes so apparent. When Mr. Potter realizes that Uncle Billy has “lost” the deposit, he seizes the opportunity to force the Building and Loan into bankruptcy and scandal. His lack of integrity is on display when he covers up the fact that he has the lost money, and tries to deceive George into selling out. George, on the other hand, refuses to compromise, resulting in a night of despair and potentially tragic choices, but culminating in the love and support of his family and friends.

Since the 1980’s, James Kouzes and Barry Posner have conducted extensive, global research on organizational leadership that has revealed the significant importance of integrity in leaders. The results of their research, presented in the book The Leadership Challenge (2002), have identified five practice of exemplary leadership, those behaviors that were consistently present among successful and influential leaders: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart. But they also identified those things that followers most expected from their leaders. Having surveyed over 75,000 people around the world, they have discovered that one characteristic is expected more than any other: honesty. Their results have revealed that in almost every survey they have conducted, “honesty has been selected more often than any other leadership characteristic; overall, it emerges as the single most important ingredient in the leader-constituent relationship” (p. 27). They go on to say, “When people talk to us about the qualities they admire in leaders, they often use ‘integrity’ and ‘character’ as synonymous with honesty. No matter what the setting, everyone wants to be fully confident in their leaders, and to be fully confident they have to believe that their leaders are people of strong character and solid integrity . . . nearly 90 percent of constituents want their leaders to be honest above all else” (p. 27). The clear implication is that integrity matters. People will not follow a leader they do not trust, and their level of trust is directly connected to the leader’s integrity.

Why is there such a strong connection between integrity and effective leadership? To begin with, integrity is an attribute of someone’s character that is directly connected to consistency. In other words, when your beliefs and actions are not consistent with each other, you are viewed as hypocritical, but when your walk matches your talk (the essence of consistency in character), you are viewed as having integrity. People will then believe what you say because they believe who you are. This leads to credibility, or the confidence that you can be believed because of the integrity that you have demonstrated. Credibility, in turn, is followed by trust, and people will follow someone they trust.

Therefore the lesson is that integrity is crucial for effective leadership. And it must be something that is demonstrated over time in all circumstances. It cannot be a characteristic that you demonstrate in some circumstances, but not in others, picking and choosing when you think it will benefit you to act honest, like a jacket that you put on or take off to fit the mood or the environment. People will very quickly identify that behavior as disingenuous and dishonest. Rather it must be part of who you are all the time. For integrity to be believed, it must be genuine.

When I was young, I once heard integrity defined as the characteristic of choosing to do what is right even when no one is looking. That idea must be true of your actions in all circumstances; whether it is public or not, whether it is easy or not, whether it personally benefits you or not, you need demonstrate integrity. Do it in the big things, but also do it in the little things, in your daily choices of what you do, or what you say, or what you allow. If people know that you have integrity, they will trust you enough to follow you. So regardless of what type of leader you are, what your circumstances are, or what the environment is in which you lead, integrity must be a genuine and integral part of who you are, how you live your life, and how you lead. To be an effective leader, you must lead with integrity.

 

Kouzes, J. M., and Posner, B. Z. (2002). The Leadership Challenge (3rd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

Week of December 22, 2014

Help Spread the Word!

Please and Thank You graphicWould you please help spread the word?  My advertising budget pays for the cost of the free use of social media and nothing more; therefore I am relying entirely on “word of mouth” to make people aware of the contents of this blog and the availability of my recently published book.  If you find either or these resources to be helpful or valuable, would you help spread the word?

 


 

Finding Purpose cover→ My book, “Finding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity” is available on Amazon (also available for Kindle). Click here to order a copy.

What is God’s purpose for you? What are you supposed to do with your life? These are difficult questions that we all wrestle with, often causing frustration, anxiety, or indecision. Using the concepts of passion, ability, and opportunity, Dr. Jeff McMaster presents a road map for identifying your individual purpose, and finding fulfillment in it. Based on principles from the Bible, these simple ideas can help you gain a better understanding of what God made you to do, and find fulfillment in it.2) You can get a free digital copy of my “Three Keys for Forming a Good Team” by signing up for email notices! On the Common Sense Leaders home page, enter your email address and first name (and I guarantee your information will not be shared with anyone else), and I will send you a free digital copy, containing three important factors to keep in mind when putting a team together.

 


 


Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 1.03.32 PM→ You can get a free digital copy of my “Three Keys for Forming a Good Team” by signing up for email notices! 
On the Common Sense Leaders home page, enter your email address and first name (and I guarantee your information will not be shared with anyone else), and I will send you a free digital copy, containing three important factors to keep in mind when putting a team together.

 


 

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