Integrity: The Foundational Leadership Core Value

All people have values. You cannot be human or have a soul without them. At the heart of all people is where Core Values can be found. These are deep-seated values that no one needs to tell you about, can take away from you, or change your mind on. Core values define who we are! At the heart of leadership are core values that all leaders identify with. These core values cross every demographic, culture, industry, and profession. Core values stand alone!

Over the next several weeks, I will identify and explore the Core Values of Leadership and show how each of them plays a critical role in the life of a leader and those who follow. Today, I begin with what I consider to be the foundational core value of leadership, Integrity.

As a person who is educated in law, I am a firm believer that words have meaning and consequences. The meaning of a word is vital to understanding its usage in any language. Words have consequences based upon their usage. Words assign attributes to persons, places, and things. Words also provide context to dialog. Therefore, I always like to define words when they are the subject of my dialog by turning to various lexicons such as, among other things legal and modern English usage dictionaries.

You may find it interesting that the only legal authority I have found containing a reference to the word, Integrity says, “See honesty.” The good news is that in Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage, Third Edition under honesty, the proper legal usage of integrity is defined as follows:

Integrity denotes incorruptible morality and insistence on meeting not only one’s commitments but also one’s personal standards of conduct.” (Garner & Garner, Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 2011)

While there are other dictionaries that define integrity, I believe that Garner’s definition is perfectly on point.

Army Field Manual FM 22-100: The U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual says that leaders who demonstrate integrity: do what is right legally and morally; possess high personal moral standards; are honest in word and deed; show consistently good moral judgment and behavior; and, put being right ahead of being popular.

Integrity is about doing what is right when no one is watching. It is also about doing what is right even when it is hard to do so, or when society might understand not doing what is necessarily the right thing.

A great example of integrity comes from the Bible with Philemon and how he handled Paul’s request. (If you have not read the Bible, allow me to preface this by saying that back in time when the history recorded in the Bible was being lived out, slavery was commonplace.) Philemon had a bondservant named Onesimus who had fled from Philemon and found Paul, who was imprisoned for spreading the Gospel of Christ. While with Paul, Onesimus accepted Christ as his personal savior and was then accepted by Paul as a brother in Christ. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon explaining Onesimus’s conversion to Christianity, pleading with Philemon to forgive Onesimus for his trespass and to accept him (Onesimus) back, not as a bondservant but as a brother. Paul could have commanded Philemon by the authority of Christ to do this. But, Paul lovingly asked this of him. Now, keep in mind that Philemon had every right to disregard Paul’s request with righteous indignation by societal standards of the time. However, history records that Philemon accepted Onesimus back and embraced him as a brother in Christ.

Imagine how difficult it is to do what is right when someone has wronged you! Even when you know that society would not blame you for acting otherwise. Philemon’s integrity was on full display, doing what was right even when it was extremely difficult to do.

How does this apply to modern American society? Certainly, things have changed in modern times to the point that integrity, even when it is difficult is considered passe, right? Not so fast, my friends!

John Glenn was a United States Senator from Ohio, who was also a United States Marine Corps pilot before becoming a NASA Mercury and Space Shuttle Astronaut. All through his career, John Glenn was well known and respected for being a man of high integrity in everything he did. He was a faithful husband to his wife, Annie Castor to whom he was married for 73-years until his death in 2016. While this is a very good example from his personal life, John Glenn showed great integrity when it was difficult as a US Senator.

One of Senator Glenn’s assistant’s told a story of a situation that occurred on the floor of the Senate when a “very old senator” that was, I will say in cognitive decline took issue with a position Senator Glenn had taken on legislation introduced in the Armed Services Committee. This elderly statesman commenced “chewing out” Senator Glenn on the Senate floor. About an hour later, the same Senator called to ask for a favor and Senator Glenn accommodated him. According to the Senator’s assistant, who was incredulous about the request, Senator Glenn said that the elderly Senator, “…no longer remembered the chewing out, and it did no harm to help him on the matter at hand.” (Remembering John Glenn, lawmaker 2019)

Integrity is the solid ground upon which a life of leadership is built. With integrity, a leader can stand firm against the crashing waves that rise up in any situation. It keeps a leader firmly grounded in what is right at all times! Without integrity, a leader might as well build upon the sand by the sea. A leader without integrity will find their standing with those who follow washed away by the tides that inevitably come in life.

The Core Values of Leadership stand alone. One does not require the others to exist or operate in the life of a leader, but they complement each other. If integrity is the foundation of leadership, then build upon it using the other core values to grow and expand your leadership influence!


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