The primary relationship between a leader and a follower must be built on trust and trust is gained through integrity.
Integrity is a word that everybody knows but few really understand. We use synonyms like honesty or trustworthiness but what is integrity really and how do we truly live it?
A long time ago I read an interesting analogy. I wish I could remember the author to give him credit, but I can’t. He said that integrity and the old high school math term integer share the same root word. So can we learn something about integrity from an integer? Yes we can! An integer is a whole number.
The concept of integrity is rooted in wholeness. It mean to be whole, complete or, even more interesting, undivided.
To live a life of integrity means to live undivided. It means that we operate out of a single set of morals, ethics and values and not dual sets or situational ethics.
When we operate out of integrity, people trust us. They don’t have to wonder which one of us is going to show up. They simply trust us because they already know who we are are where we are coming from. Until we give them reason to believe otherwise, they will trust us.
"Don't try to work directly on influence, work on your integrity, integrity breeds trust and trust is what gives us influence."
None of us are perfect however and so there will be times where we will show small cracks in our integrity. It may be a harsh word spoken out of anger or something small like that, but it will cause people to question us, even if in a very small way. While large breaks in our integrity can bring things tumbling down fast, and we avoid those at all costs, small cracks in our integrity add up over time if not addressed and fixed.
So what do leaders do when they see a crack in their integrity? They proactively fix it! Let’s take the harsh word spoken example. If we preach kindness and speaking lovingly to others and then we speak harshly to someone, people following us will see the disconnect. It is at that point that the leader needs to be a strong leader and admit it and seek forgiveness. Rather than showing weakness, a leader who addresses and fixes these small breaks is trusted even more.
One last thought. Most people overestimate their integrity. It is easy for us to point out breaks in other people’s integrity because we see their actions and make a judgement. We are different with ourselves however. When judging our own integrity, we base our assessment on our intentions rather than our actions. We didn’t mean to do it so we don't see it as a break in integrity. Other people however, are looking at our actions. This is why some leaders have a different view of themselves than their followers do.
The takeaway then is to take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself how you are living? Are you living an undivided life? Are you living in wholeness and integrity? When you do, you will breed trust and gain more influence in the lives of others.