Tag Archive for Integrity

Integrity, by Henry Cloud


In the Christmas season, we all tend to pause and take some time to reflect on the things that really matter; things like family, love, generosity, and the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ as a baby in a manger.  It seems appropriate, then, to take a little time to focus one of the character traits that we notice more during this time of year:  integrity.  For that reason, this week I share some thoughts about Henry Cloud’s book, “Integrity,” and next week I am drawing  a lesson on leading with integrity from the example of George Bailey in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful life,” from a post I originally shared two Christmas’s ago.


integrity-cloud-coverAccording 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.

Your Walk Talks, and Your Talk Talks

Recently, my family came together during a difficult time, when my father had a stroke.  As we gathered together in the hospital, with much uncertainty over the eventual outcome*, often our conversations would turn to our memories of the words of wisdom he had shared over the years.  Some of it was quite funny, but all of it was wise, so I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the wisdom I have learned from him through the years.  Some are a repeat of previous posts (because I had already been sharing his wisdom), and some are topics I haven’t shared before.  This week, I am sharing a post that I shared some time ago, and it centers around something he often said when he talked about the importance of your example to others.

*My father went home to be with His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on Sunday, May 8, 2016.  I grieve at the loss of my hero, mentor, and friend, but I rejoice at the celebration of his arrival in heaven.

“Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” I heard my father say this many times when I was growing up, in his effort to teach the importance of being genuine. The lesson, which was reinforced to me on numerous occasions, was that my words (what I say) and my actions (what I do) need to match. In fact, the reality is that people will judge me more by my actions than by my words.

As I grew into an adult, I eventually realized that I had unconsciously taken on many of my father’s characteristics that I had learned by watching his “walk.” Interestingly, I think the same thing is true in organizations: people within the organization, over time, take on many of the characteristics of the leader. I’m reminded of the classic parenting line, “Do as I say and not as I do,” which we all know is not what really happens; we tend to do what we see. That same conclusion was reached by Albert Bandura in his studies on behavior modification and observational learning, most notably in his classic “Bobo doll” study (1969, 1986, 2003).

One of the primary applications of this truth is the importance of consistency in leadership. In essence, do what you say you will do. I found strong affirmation of this in a recent study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, which was undertaken to identify “what separates the competent from the exceptional individual performers” using over 50,000 360-degree evaluations on 4150+ individual contributors over a five-year time period. Stated in an article in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, they said, “Walk the Talk. It’s easy for some people to casually agree to do something and then let it slip their minds. Most people would say that this is mere forgetfulness. We disagree. We believe it is dishonest behavior. If you commit to doing something, barring some event truly beyond your control, you should follow through. The best individual contributors are careful not to say one thing and do another. They are excellent role models for others. This is the competency for which the collective group of 4,158 individuals we studied received the highest scores. That means, essentially, that following through on commitments is table stakes. But exceptional individual contributors go far beyond the others in their scrupulous practice of always doing what they say they will do.” (Zenger & Folkman, 2014)

Consistency in what you do is one of the most important factors in your credibility as a leader. It gives you trust, makes you believable. John Kotter made the same connection between consistency and credibility when he said, “Another big challenge in leadership efforts is credibility – getting people to believe the message. Many things contribute to credibility: the track record of the person delivering the message, the content of the message itself, the communicator’s reputation for integrity and trustworthiness, and the consistency between words and deeds.” (HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, 2011, p. 48) I had the opportunity to live this out in one organization that had an absence of trust between leadership and employees when I arrived. In my first year, I became very intentional about communicating publicly what I would be doing (both minor and major things), and then making sure that people saw that I did those things. I wanted them to know that I would do what I said I would do, so that they could trust me. My efforts were affirmed when, during an evaluation process at the end of the first year, the consensus of the employees indicated that “trust of leadership” was one of the most positive aspects of the year.

I also want to go one layer deeper in this principle. The consistency of doing what you say you will do is critical to effective leadership, but it will really only work well if it is genuine, and it is only genuine if it is who you are. In other words, it’s not simply about your actions matching your words, but your life matching your values. Jim Collins calls this “consistency of action – consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time.” (Collins & Hansen, 2011, p. 21) Consistency begins with what you say, is demonstrated by what you do, but is validated in who you are. It is actually at this deeper level that you will find the strength and courage to resist the pressure to compromise in ways that make you inconsistent, especially when circumstances are difficult.

Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of Behavior Modification. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (2003). On the Psychosocial Impact and Mechanisms of Spiritual Modeling. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(3), 167.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. (2011). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2014, April 11, 2014). The Behaviors that Define A-Players.


Lead With Integrity

This month, we are exploring the importance of character in leadership, so it makes sense to re-share a post I shared a year ago on integrity in leadership:

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.


Character Matters. It Really Does.

It’s November. This is the month of Thanksgiving. It also seems to be the time of the year when we emphasize certain values, like gratitude, service, and family. And the closer we get to the celebration of Thanksgiving (followed by the season of Christmas), the more we think about those kinds of virtues. That’s part of the reason why my posts this month focus on character and its expression – topics like, how to make things right when you mess up, why integrity matters to leadership, and even a review of book on the importance of character in leadership (“Redefining Leadership.” By Joe Stowell).


In my personal opinion, character in leadership always matters, even though, too often, it seems to be missing. So I want to be sure that I am taking this opportunity to emphasize its importance, and remind us all that the most effective leadership will be authentic, will have integrity, will reflect honesty, will be trustworthy, and will do what is right. I know that sometimes it’s really hard to do what’s right – perhaps because it’s going to hurt to tell the truth, perhaps because there will be something that is sacrificed or lost by being honest rather than deceitful, perhaps because it seems like the “bad guy” will win – and so you struggle with choosing to do the right thing. The truth is, it may be very hard, and you may not always see an immediate gain, but you will always be better by doing what is right.


So, as we enter this holiday season, let me encourage you to be intentional and thoughtful about what you do and how you do it. Treat people right regardless of how challenging they may be. Prove yourself to be worthy of trust, in both your words and your actions. Invest in relationships and in others. Be conscious of your choices, regardless of whether or not anyone is looking at you (and someone probably is, whether you realize it or not). As my dad used to say to me when I was young (and I, in turn, said it to my children), “It’s right to do right, because it’s right.” So do what’s right. Lead with integrity. Be genuine. Be humble. Let your leadership reflect your character; and not just during this particular holiday season, but always.

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.

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