In their book – “Credibility, How Leaders Gain & Lose it”, James M. Kouzes & Barry Z Posner concluded that after over three decades of research and inquiries it is very amazing to realise that the attributes and characteristics that followers are looking for, demanding and expecting from leaders have not change. Though the order of priority may have changed slightly, the core elements remain the same. These elements are grouped into four major heading:
- Forward looking
These four fundamentals are like the four cardinal points of a compass that must guide the life and conduct of a leader in order to enjoy a life-long relationship and fellowship of followers. In examining these four characteristics, one of the cogent discoveries is that the four must be present and fully functioning at the same time in a leaders life for the leader to enjoy an all-round success in whatever they do or lead. To have one of them out creates an in-balance, to have two out of joint is instability and to have three out of line is disaster. These four are like a chain, they interlink and give each other strength and life. They are the road maps that a leader must learn, understand and follow in all affairs to command and continuously enjoy the loyalty and respect of their followers because these qualities are always being watched and queried all the time by the followers.
These four cardinal points, when expanded will include – honesty, fair minded, supportive, forward looking, confident, broad minded, intelligent, courage, dependable, self-control, caring, imaginative, caring, ambitious, co-operative, straight forward, inspiring, team player, decisive, truthful, etc. Let us look deeper into these four points.
Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles or the state of being whole and undivided or internal consistency or lack of corruption. In other words, it is adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty and having an unimpaired, or perfect condition. Every human being has an inner compass or umpire that guides and rules our conduct and perspective in life. The degree to which this compass is allowed to perform its duties freely and uninterrupted will determine the degree to which that individual will live and demonstrate integrity. This umpire is intangible and has been called different names such as – the inner man, the conscience, the witness on the inside, mind, small voice or intuition. But irrespective of the definition giving to it, the meaning and its function remain the same – to keep us on the straight and narrow path. But because it is intangible and invisible, many have trained their compass to either stop working completely or render it redundant by completely ignoring its directions.
However, just as in normal life, if you ignore the warning signs and the alarm bells, the destination is as sure as day – total destruction. Integrity is not tied to an existing position or office, rather it is built over time from early years in one’s life. Integrity is the personal identity card that every human being carries, it is the picture that people have or form in their mental heart when a person’s name is mentioned. In the same way we see everything in picture, so is the image of a leader seen by followers and this image is always enclosed in a frame called integrity. For instance when someone says “dog”; what you see immediately is a creature with four legs, tail, wet and soggy tongue etc, you will not see the three letters “D O G”. When a leader’s name is mentioned the first thing that comes to mind is a picture with a question mark above it! The question is “do I trust him / her”?
Integrity is built over time brick by brick and the stronger the foundation is the taller the career, family, life, relationships etc that is built upon it will rise. Integrity is earned over time. It takes a long time to build but very easy to destroy. One act of foolishness, error of judgment, careless talk or wrong association can cause a leader 30 years of hard work and reputation. It is important to differentiate between integrity (character) and reputation. Character is who you are in season and out of season, alone or in a crowd, at home or at work or church, when you have people to impress or not. It is who and what you are when the lights are out, cameras are gone and the crowd has dispersed. Reputation on the other hand is who people say you are and this is very subjective as it can be manipulated to suit any purpose or situation. Everybody is an actor or actress, we all wear masks and camouflages, we are all like chameleon, we can easily change and adapt to our environment.
As a leader, integrity means being trust worthy, truthful, ethical and honest.
A leader who is honest and forth coming with current situation of things earn more trust and respect of their followers than the leader that tries to cover up and pretend all is well when things are not going well. There is a place for discernment and discretion however, followers have entrusted themselves to the leading and direction of the leader. He is therefore duty bound to present the issues as they are to the followers. It is like a couple travelling by car to a place they have not been before and the husband is driving – especially before the advent of satellite navigation or GPS. Women are very quick to admit that they have missed their turning or completely lost than the men. Men usually say to themselves, “I am sure the right road is after the next junction” when all he has to do is admit they are lost and ask for direction.
It is impossible for two people to be ignorant of a lie. If the receiver is ignorant, the sender definitely is not, he is fully aware that this is a lie! As a leader, it is important to remember that you are the most trusted person that you know, but if your trust in yourself is questionable, then the followers have no chance of any truth. Let you yes be yes and your no be no, anything outside of these two parameters is deadly. Followers generally are investors! They invest their most valuable asset – their trust in a leader and whole heartedly believe the leader is a safe hand to leave such precious jewel. When this trust is abused, trampled upon or betrayed, it leaves the followers “bankrupt”. The investment is lost, the leader is resented and loathed while the followers are heart broken, upset, distressed but most of all, blame themselves for trusting the leader with their investment in the first place. It is no wonder they find it almost impossible to trust another leader.
Leadership is more than just ordering people about, issuing out instructions, taking the glory for the hard work of others, it is actually a responsibility of trust and being a custodian of other peoples’ investment, lives and emotions. It is therefore very important for a leader to recognize that what is at stake is more than the quarterly bank balance, balance sheet figures or the company’s stock performance in the stock market. What is at stake is lives, peoples’ lives and future. Late Bob Marley once said “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively”.