Archive for March 2017

“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.”

Be Trustworthy (some recommended books)

“Be Trustworthy” is the third category we’re exploring in our “Be A Better Leader” series. In this series, we are looking at a variety of attributes, characteristics, and skills that are essential to effective leadership, and discussing how they are reflected in practice. In addition to this month’s topic, the list of categories also includes “Be Genuine,” “Be Relational,” Be Knowledgeable,” and “Be Excellent.” This month, as we look at what it means to “Be Trustworthy,” we will be talking about the need to be consistent, be safe, and be honest, and then I will share some thoughts on a recommended related book or two.

Very few people would question the importance of integrity and character and trustworthiness, and there are numerous good books available to prompt your thinking on these topics.  Here are a couple of books that I’ve read in the last year or so that can provide some insight and food for thought.

Redefining Leadership, by Joseph Stowell

We have seen leaders on the national and international stage who clearly seem to lack character and integrity, and the impact of their leadership has been devastating to watch. However, it is sometimes our tendency to see that as a “far-off problem,” and miss the fact that character and integrity are important issues in our own leadership. This is the issue that Joseph Stowell addresses in Redefining Leadership: Character-driven habits of effective leaders (2014).

Very early, in the introduction, he posits that, “The kind of person you are and how you navigate your leadership is at the core of long-term effectiveness” (p. 13). Essentially, he states that character-driven leadership is reflected in the kind of person you are as you lead, and how you lead, and he establishes Jesus as the teacher and model of this kind of leadership. Character-driven leadership, he says, reflects Jesus and gives us credibility.

In the first section of the book, Stowell differentiates between outcome-driven leadership and character-driven leadership, and then explores the implications of those differences, including the impact that results from the “who” and “how” of our leadership. In the second section of the book, he establishes Jesus as the example to follow. He explores and explains Jesus’ actions and thought process (the mind of Christ), and draws from them lessons for our own leadership that reflect Jesus’ style of leading (and serving). In the final section of the book, Stowell explains and applies the principles given by Jesus that are found in The Beatitudes, in the Sermon on the Mount, and establishes these as core competencies for character-driven leadership.

There is no doubt in my mind that character-driven leadership is an absolute necessity for our leadership as followers of Jesus, and this book is an excellent resource for helping us to understand and apply it. The challenge is that the pressures of the world in which we lead often make it difficult to maintain character and integrity, which in turn makes it that much more important for us, becoming a way that we can set ourselves apart and reflect Jesus to the world around us. I would urge you to reflect on your own leadership style and practice, and make sure that the actions you are taking, the motives that are driving you, and the character you are exhibiting all reflect Jesus, and I would encourage you to pick up a copy of this book as a reminder and a resource.

 

 

Integrity, by Henry Cloud

According to Dr. Henry Cloud, there are three essential qualities of successful leadership: Competence, or the ability to “master your craft,” to “get good at what you do”; Relationships, or the ability to “cultivate and maintain relationships that are mutually beneficial”; and Character, or “your makeup as a person . . . not just moral safeguards, but who you are at your core, in both positive and difficult circumstances.” It is this third quality, Character, that he addresses in his book, “Integrity: The courage to meet the demands of reality” (2006).

 

In the book, Dr. Cloud connects character with integrity and reality, by explaining how reality puts demands on our lives that force us to respond, and how our response to reality are a reflection of our character. Our integrity, then, is seen in how our character is consistently demonstrated in all areas of who we are. He then discusses six specific aspects of our personhood – who we are – that must be integrated (consistently reflective of our character) for us to successfully lead:

  • The ability to establish trust through authenticity
  • The ability to see and speak the truth and reality, both in/to themselves and in/to others
  • The ability to finish well
  • The ability to embrace – and therefore to learn from – the negative
  • The ability to be oriented toward growth, which requires intentional effort and application
  • The ability to be oriented toward transcendence, recognizing that something bigger than you, from which your values will emanate

 

I found this to be an interesting and thought-provoking book. The emphasis was not so much on the character trait of integrity, but rather on the importance of having an integrated character. I would probably describe it in terms of consistency in your response to the realities of life in all circumstances, which reflects who you are as a person. Therefore, in this context, integrity is actually referring to an internal state – the unified wholeness in your character and your personhood as you navigate life. I do believe whole-heartedly that consistency and authenticity are necessary for successful leadership (and successful relationships), so this is a good lesson on which to reflect.

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. 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. To be an effective leader, you must lead with integrity, because when your life reflects integrity, people will be willing and able to trust you.

Be A Better Leader – Be Trustworthy (by being honest)

“Be Trustworthy” is the third category we’re exploring in our “Be A Better Leader” series. In this series, we are looking at a variety of attributes, characteristics, and skills that are essential to effective leadership, and discussing how they are reflected in practice. In addition to this month’s topic, the list of categories also includes “Be Genuine,” “Be Relational,” Be Knowledgeable,” and “Be Excellent.” This month, as we look at what it means to “Be Trustworthy,” we will be talking about the need to be consistent, be safe, and be honest, and then I will share some thoughts on a recommended related book or two.

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 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, because when your life reflects integrity, people will be willing and able to trust you.

 

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

 

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much or suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”  

President Theodore Roosevelt

Be A Better Leader – Be Trustworthy (by being safe)

“Be Trustworthy” is the third category we’re exploring in our “Be A Better Leader” series. In this series, we are looking at a variety of attributes, characteristics, and skills that are essential to effective leadership, and discussing how they are reflected in practice. In addition to this month’s topic, the list of categories also includes “Be Genuine,” “Be Relational,” Be Knowledgeable,” and “Be Excellent.” This month, as we look at what it means to “Be Trustworthy,” we will be talking about the need to be consistent, be safe, and be honest, and then I will share some thoughts on a recommended related book or two.

Have you ever seen someone’s spirit get crushed? I have. I can remember sitting in a fast food restaurant when I was in my early 20’s, when a young boy at a nearby table spilled his soft drink. His mother immediately reacted by loudly and harshly belittling him with her words, and by publicly humiliating him. He was visibly crushed. If he learned anything from that experience, it most likely was that accidents are unforgivable and should never happen. He learned that, in his world, it was not safe to make a mistake.

When people believe that it is not safe to make a mistake or to fail, they will stop putting themselves at risk. They will stop trusting people, taking chances, putting in effort, and growing. Instead of taking a risk, or learning something new, or stepping up to the plate, they will revert to a place of self-preservation. They do this to protect themselves from the consequences that could come with failure, by removing the risk of failure altogether.

We need to remember that failure plays an important role in the development of leadership. In fact, it plays an important role in the development of all people. For that reason, leaders need to have the right perspective regarding failure, so that they can intentionally harness its power for good, and a right perspective on failure includes three important ideas.

  1. Failure is certain. We are imperfect people, living in an imperfect world. We each have particular strengths, but we also each have particular weaknesses. We learn by experience. This combination of ideas guarantees us that we will make mistakes, and that at some point, we will fail. You can see illustrations of this everywhere you look – babies learning to walk, teenagers learning to drive, students taking tests, professional football quarterbacks throwing interceptions, and countless other examples. The reality is that people make mistakes, and this will always be true. And while failures and mistakes sometimes have the potential to be fatal, generally failure is defeating only when you let it keep you down. As General George Custer once said, “It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up.”
  2. Failure is valuable. Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Clearly, he viewed every mistake, every setback, as a learning opportunity. That’s what makes failure valuable. It provides an opportunity to learn, to change, and to grow. By implication, if you don’t learn from your failures, you won’t change and grow; rather, you will continue to make the same mistakes. This differentiation is one of the attributes that characterizes leaders – they are able to learn from their mistakes and improve. However, the underlying context that makes this work is an environment that allows someone the opportunity to learn from mistakes. It only makes sense, then, that if it is not safe to make mistakes and learn from them, people will avoid behaviors that bring the possibility of failure, and therefore will miss the opportunity for growth that comes from those same failures.
  3. It can be safe to fail. Given both the certainty and the value of failure, it becomes important for leaders to cultivate a culture that makes it safe to try and fail, and there are three steps that can be taken that help to ensure this:
    • First, provide opportunities for people to try. Experience is such an important part of growth and development, but experience only comes when someone has the opportunity to try – to lead a project, manage a task, facilitate a discussion, plan an event, and so on. What we have to keep in mind is that (like a baby learning to walk) people will stumble in the process of learning something new and stretching themselves.
    • Therefore, the second step is to have a response that is instructive, not destructive. Use it as a teachable experience, one from which they can learn. Take time to evaluate the causes and contributing factors, the mistakes that were made, and provide guidance that will ultimate produce greater growth, confidence, and development.
    • Finally, the third step is to give people a chance to get back up after they have fallen, to “get back in the saddle” and try again. The goal is that they have learned from their failures and become more competent and skilled, which will be better for everyone. And if they don’t learn, then you have; you now know that they are beyond their limits of performance, at least at this point in their personal development, and therefore you, the leader, can choose to not give them those opportunities again.

President Theodore Roosevelt once declared, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much or suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” Failure is an important part of life. Make it safe for people to fail and then to learn.  When you make it safe for them to do so, they will learn to trust you, and will therefore be freed up to try more and do more, which will benefit both of you in the end.