“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.”
Author and academician James C. Humes maintains that leadership is selling. And selling, basically, is talking. The talking that sells, though, must be authentic. It must be honest. It must inspire trust.
To illustrate: You may have heard about the authors who wanted to write a book detailing ways to save the earth. They collected hundreds of user-friendly ideas. Their writing style was outstanding. Their publisher was excited. Everyone thought they had a best-seller on their hands. But the sales never matched the hope. Can you figure out why?
That's right. They neglected to use recycled paper. Their words did not have the ring of authenticity. Readers figured that if the authors were really concerned about the environment, they would have chosen paper that protected it.
The authors had a good idea, to be sure--a collection of ways to save the earth. Unfortunately, the good idea didn't match their goal. The authors failed to practice what they were preaching. To lead effectively, you must ensure your behavior mirrors your intentions. Align words, action, and an honorable goal. There's a Biblical precedent, to be sure--you'll recognized the authenticity in Jesus' words--"I know from where I came and where I go" (John 8:14).
ALIGN WORDS AND ACTIONS
If you have earned a reputation for acting a certain way, you will want your words to match your actions. And, of course, your actions will match your reputation. Stephen King knew the importance of maintaining one's hard-earned reputation. He once told a reporter: "I have the heart of a little boy."
The reporter, who was familiar with King's work, looked doubtful. The words didn't ring true. They didn't sound like the authentic King, the king of horror.
King went on to show his words were authentic, after all. In reference to the heart of a little boy, he amended, "It sits right next to my computer, in a jar of formaldehyde."
When others sense that your goal is being pursued for less than honorable purposes, they will lose faith. When they sense that your words are covering up a goal different from the one you're proposing, they will stop supporting you. Make certain there's congruence between your goal and a good intention. And, make certain both your words and actions reflect that worthy goal.
OPERATE WITHIN ETHICAL BOUNDARIES
Always. If you fail to lead with honor, your self-serving intentions will be uncovered, sooner or later. As businesspeople, we may be able to maintain relationships for a while in an integrity-vacuum. We may be able to operate with less than full disclosure, we may be able to sell a shoddy product or disguise a true intent. Sooner or later, though, some of the people who cannot be fooled all of the time will see through the threadbare mantle of integrity, worn by unethical individuals in order to cloak ulterior motives. And when that happens, the consequences may easily doom the unscrupulous seller.
Unlike morality--which implies a codified sense of ethics, an acknowledged system to which many people subscribe--integrity is an individual consideration. Consequently, achieving clarity on integrity is much harder than achieving clarity on influence. But once you have made the choices that lead to clarity, you can consciously take ethical actions--actions that reflect the principles by which you wish to live. Having grasped what integrity is, you'll proceed to use it in your efforts to influence others in honorable ways.
PERSONAL INTEGRITY: A SLOW-MOVING TARGET
Integrity, in truth, is a slow-moving target. Think about it. Over the years, haven't you shifted some of your views, in keeping with Emerson's insistence that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"? The authenticity you reflect today has probably moved around a bit over the years. The events or encounters that occur even after you have finally defined integrity to your satisfaction keep the target in a state of slow flux. These occurrences may be significant enough to force you to re-think your definition. That's not a bad thing.
You may have determined your personal set of principles, but when those principles are put to the test, you may discover they are not steadfast after all. Or, you may find that your principles do not apply to other people. Or, that certain factors cause a given principle to recede in importance.
You may even modify your definition to include certain behaviors that gained greater significance as you grew older. Having been betrayed by a friend or an employer, for example, you may now decide that keeping one's word is a critical aspect of integrity.
CONFUCIUS ON COWARDICE
Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the Chinese teacher and philosopher, spoke and wrote often about morality. In fact, it was he who originated the familiar exhortation, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself. For those who enjoy introspection that leads to a self-examined and a self-improved life, Confucius’ simple words provide a moral compass that is easy to follow. “To know what is right,” he asserted, and not do it it is worst cowardice.” And, if you sometimes find it difficult to determine what is right, there are always friends, relatives, and pastors whom you can ask.