Are You Leading with Integrity?

Aphorism by Plutarch, greek philosopher, biographer, moralist.WIntegrity is usually on the short list of an organization’s core values and the competencies they require of leaders. But, beyond not lying and not breaking the law, what is integrity? And how do you really know you have it?

I like this definition from psychologist and consultant, Dr. Henry Cloud:

“Integrity is the courage to meet the demands of reality.”

One way to know whether you are leading with integrity is to look at how you meet the following six demanding realities:

  1. I don’t know it all. It can be humbling and even scary to say, “I don’t know.” But it’s often the first step before being able to learn, experiment and hear others’ good ideas and suggestions. When is the last time you said, “I don’t know,” and sought someone else’s view?
  2. I fall short. Integrity involves striving for excellence while being honest about where you are in relation to it. Do you lower the bar so you can feel better about not clearing it? Do you hide your shortcomings and pretend you’ve cleared the bar when you really haven’t? Neither is courageously facing reality.
  3. I am not in control. People of integrity seek to influence other people and outcomes, but they realize when things are beyond their control. They don’t manipulate others or spend energy trying to ramrod through what’s out of their control.
  4. Not everyone will like or respect me. Henry Cloud tells the story of a CEO hiring him and then asking him to do his dirty work of firing someone. Most of us (myself included) can think of times when we didn’t have the guts to deliver a difficult but needed message. Are you willing to respectfully and courageously help others face reality – even if they don’t want to hear it?
  5. It’s not about me. This is the opening sentence of The Purpose Driven Life, a book by pastor Rick Warren, and it’s a reality that most of us don’t want to hear. Yet when we live as if we are the center of the universe, we overinflate our importance and undervalue others. A leader with integrity esteems herself yet also values others and their interests.
  6. Life cannot be compartmentalized. A person with integrity lives in a consistent and integrated way across the different roles of life. If I’m making poor decisions as a husband, I will likely make poor decisions as a business leader – and vice versa. And when I’m improving relationship skills or demonstrating discipline in one arena of life, this spills into other areas in a good way.

To honestly assess our integrity, we need the courage to look in the mirror, along with the caring accountability of others, to help us act on the reality we see.


Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps executives and their teams improve their integrity, impact and engagement. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.