What Integrity in Leadership Really Means


Of all the qualities that are crucial for leaders to possess, integrity is near or at the top of the list. But what is integrity, and how is it manifested? In recent times, integrity has almost become a subjectively determined buzzword for business that is thrown around to build trust and credibility with potential customers. In the process of this happening, the real meaning of integrity has become obscured, which is quite a concern given that integrity in leadership has never been more important than it is now. The scandals within the Catholic Church and banking sector, and with high ranking politicians who promise one thing but deliver another, testify to this truth.

One of the more common definitions of integrity that I hear bandied about is when a person’s behaviour reflects a deeply held set of values. I would certainly agree that this is a valid aspect of how integrity in leadership can be manifested, but as an encompassing definition, I think that it is largely inadequate. My research into the role of a lived calling in driving leadership behaviour has presented me with very strong evidence to suggest that integrity in leadership comprises so much more. On the basis of my findings, I would define integrity in the leadership context as, a person’s ability to create and maintain a state of internal and external wholeness.

Having provided this definition, what I want to do now is provide some examples of how integrity in leadership was practiced by members of my sample group. Fundamentally, at the core level of their being, these people lived in alignment with their calling which led them to demonstrate tangible leadership behaviours. As they did this, they maintained a state of wholeness where what they did was reflective of who they were. Contrast this with someone who by their actions is not giving expression to their calling. Effecting a divide between who they are and what they are doing, this person would be incapable of demonstrating integrity in leadership as I have defined it, because they do not exist in a state of wholeness. This leadability is fluid of course, but this person who is living out of alignment with their calling cannot move into this space until they first create a state of wholeness within themselves.

Other ways that members of my sample group created wholeness in their lives was by engaging in practices such as meditation, solitude and contemplative reflection, which allowed their true spiritual selves to come forth and guide their paths in life. Living their lives in a balanced way was also a high priority for these people, which diminished the risk of areas of their lives being neglected, and the potential which that had to tear at the fabric of the integrity that they had cultivated.

This next part I find particularly interesting. When I explored the behaviours that these people living their calling demonstrated in their physical environment, the integrative nature of their movements became very clear. In the workplace for example, these people talked about bringing people together to create synergy in their organisations (to promote holistic functioning); practicing collaborative, open and inclusive working styles (to foster an esprit de corps of oneness); establishing links and networks with stakeholders (bringing other elements of their environment together for mutual support and gain); prioritising the growth of their people, and bringing them into alignment with their own sense of calling (assisting others to realise a state of wholeness).

If you look at the opposite of what I am describing above, ‘leaders’ who are not integrated, you can observe in their behaviour, a pervasive theme of creating separation or division, which undermines their ability to achieve wholeness. Donald Trump, who wants to build a wall between America and one of its closest neighbours, and Rodney Adler, who tore apart one of Australia’s largest insurance companies for personal gain, are prominent examples of this truth. I have stated before that ego is the biggest enemy of effective leadership, and not surprisingly, it is just as toxic to our integrity as well. The relationship between integrity and leadership is clear, and it turns out that the person who can create and maintain a state of wholeness, both within themselves and in their environment, is best equipped to consciously lead others.


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