I am blessed to have the opportunity to work with future leaders as I teach a course on Leadership and Command for the USAF’s Air Command and Staff College. One of the first assignments is a piece on THE most important leadership trait or characteristic. Integrity usually appears at the top of the list.
When a leader places integrity at the top of his/her list, I always ask, “What does integrity mean to you?” The answers are varied and some will default to the USAF standard of “doing the right thing when nobody is looking.”
Integrity is oneness. The word “integrity” stems from the Latin adjective integer (whole, complete). In this context, integrity is the inner sense of “wholeness” deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others “have integrity” to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs, and principles they claim to hold.
Ponder a steel beam. A steel beam has integrity when its purpose, its design, its manufacture, and its use are aligned. So to have integrity, a beam must be designed and manufactured for a specific purpose—and it must actually be used toward that purpose. We can count on a beam like that, even to bear a heavy and important load, because all its existence is in alignment.
Though considerably more complex and wondrous than a steel beam, we leaders need alignment too, to have the kind of integrity demanded of us. We were all built and designed for specific purposes:
We all have natural talents and unique passions. Each of us, our purposes, our design, and the way we’re built are always aligned. Unlike the beam, however, we choose our uses. We decide how to spend our lives. If we ask and search, listen and discover what we were meant to do—we bring our lives into full alignment. If we strike out on our own, though, and follow the world’s “oughts” into other uses altogether, we commit ourselves to living lives of misalignment and an utter lack of wholeness.
Perhaps a slightly different way of looking at integrity—does it work?