People sometimes ask me how I come up with a different topic every week for my “leading with character” blog. It’s because I enjoy exploring what “leading with character” means. That helps open my mind. It’s also because there’s a lot of depth and breadth in the words “leadership” and “character.” There’s no one definition for either word; no absolute right or wrong. Leaders can, and should, formulate their own thoughts on what “leading with character” means to them.
Let’s contemplate two elements of good character: honesty and integrity. They’re very different words, although on the surface they might seem quite similar. To me, honesty is about doing the right thing in any given situation. Integrity is a deeper concept. It means living by a code of moral principles.
People who live a life of integrity are sound and incorruptible. Applying the word “integrity” to civil engineering, one might say a structure has sound integrity if it’s well-built on a firm foundation. It will withstand the shaking of an earthquake or the battering of a storm. It’s the same with people; those with a firm foundation built on personal core values are the ones with strong integrity, who will hold firm in turbulent times.
Those who have read my blogs or heard me speak on personal core values know that honesty is one of mine. I learned the value of honesty at a very young age, and I learned it from my parents.
When I was about 6 years old, I found a bird’s nest in the swing set in our back yard and peeked in at the eggs. They were beautiful. Perfectly shaped like fine jewels. On impulse, I stole one. I knew it was wrong but didn’t use the willpower to do the right thing and leave that egg alone. Later, my mother saw the egg in my room and asked where I got it. I lied. I told her I found it on the ground. Well, she saw right through that. I don’t recall what kind of punishment I got, because the internal shame of what I had done overcame any external repercussion I received. At that young age, I learned a life lesson and vowed to never put myself in such a compromising position again.
Honesty is a powerful core value that guides leaders in making good choices. Integrity means living by one’s core values, one of which could be honesty. So perhaps honesty is a subset of integrity. That line of thought leads me to deduce that leading with character is accomplished, in part, by leading a life of integrity.
When I think of a leader who led a life of integrity one of my heroes, Abraham Lincoln, comes immediately to mind. In addition to his earned moniker, “Honest Abe,” Lincoln was known for his humility. Honesty and Humility. That’s a powerful combination for a leader of character.
Look in the mirror. What does living a life of integrity mean to you as a leader of character?
Please join me again next week for more on Leading with Character.
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