“Integrity is acting for what is right. When we do this, we feel whole and uniquely powerful.” Gus Lee & Diane Elliott-Lee, Courage: The Backbone of LeadershipHow many of you have had the rare opportunity to work with a leader that you would follow no matter where they led? I’m not referring to blind-followership. I am referring to following out of devotion because of who that leader is and what they are made of. Though I am sure many of us have had that pleasure, I can't help but ask myself now that I am in a leadership position, “What did that leader/manager possess that fostered this willingness to follow, not due to their super-ordinate position, but due to who they were?” I suspect one answer to that question is "Integrity."
What is integrity? According to Lee and Lee, integrity is "acting for what is right." It is adhering to inner principles. It is simply "doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do." It is leading from the "moral center within."
Lee and Lee, in their book Courage: The Backbone of Leadership, offer three acts of integrity.
1. Discerning right from wrong. Discerning right from wrong involves doing many things.
- It involves consulting others for advice or counsel, especially those who have demonstrated a level of wisdom greater than our own. These individuals can be experienced mentors; other experienced teachers, principals, superintendents, all offer us an opportunity to reflect with us about what is right and what is wrong. We all must have individuals to whom we can look for wise counsel.
- In our discerning right from wrong, we must also honor our conscience. Taking actions that conflict with our internal compasses are a clear sign that those actions are the wrong actions. By honoring our conscience, we also stay true to ourselves as well. Being able to look at yourself in the mirror each morning is important for us as school leaders.
- In addition to honoring our conscience, we also need to be mindful so that our own personal needs and biases are not the sole basis for our actions and decisions. Lee and Lee call this “putting ourselves on the stand.” We must scrutinize our own motives because acting out of pure selfishness can lead us to wrong actions. Those motives might be in congruence with the right decision, but should not be our basis for action. Being mindful of our own "agenda" means not choosing it over what's in the best interest of others.
- If we are truly leaders of integrity, we are going to let others know what we think the right decision should be. Even more so, we as leaders are never going to demand others make decisions that conflict with their sense of right and wrong. Leaders of integrity foster integrity in others. They allow those they lead to express their reservations and problems with decisions being made. They are also open to being convinced that they can make wrong decisions too.
- We are also going to do what is right, not what will get us the next promotion. True leaders expect nothing less of those they lead as well. If we want an environment that prizes integrity, then we must admire that in those that follow us.
3. Teaching others from that act of integrity. By our demonstrations of integrity, we communicate to those who follow us that integrity is important. Doing the right thing is the right thing to do and we expect it out of all those we lead.
Lessons of integrity-failure abound in recent history. Enron, the financial meltdown that led to the Great Recession, and recent decisions made by our political leaders today are all examples of leadership decisions made without deference to integrity. In the end, to be a school leader of integrity means to courageously stand for what you believe to be right, and having the humility and courage to admit when you have been wrong, and expect no less from those we lead.