We are experiencing a crisis of integrity in our culture today and it starts with leaders. You've probably heard the phrase, "Speed of the leader, speed of the team." I think it applies here. Just last week we've learned of another story in the news reporting on sexual allegations against one of the highest ranking officials at the Vatican. I am deeply disheartened every time I read a story like that. And unfortunately, stories like that are not limited to religious leaders.
In a 2002 Barna Research poll participants were asked "whether they had complete confidence that leaders from various professions would consistently make job-related decisions that are morally appropriate." Here is a breakdown of the percentages of those who agreed:
3% - Executives of large corporations
3% - Elected government officials
3% - Film and TV producers, directors and writers
5% - News Reporters and journalists
8% - small business owners
11% - ministers, priests and clergy
14% - teachers
Those numbers should give all of us pause for personal reflection. Let's face it. It's easy to watch or read the news and see the problems "out there" in the world. We're all professionals at spotting character flaws in others, especially those in leadership...but not nearly as adept when it comes to identifying the blind spots in our own character.
To illustrate this point, a recent study conducted with college students revealed that 84% of those polled believe the US is experiencing a business crisis. And 77% believe CEOs should be held responsible for it. However (this is pretty funny), 59% of those same students admit to having cheated on a test.
I believe that most leaders start out well with a desire to do the right thing, to build something of lasting value, and make a positive difference in the lives of others, but not all leaders finish well. So what causes leaders to lose their way? There are potentially many factors, but I'm going to talk about 3 of the most significant that I have seen.
- The wrong definition of success - I love John Maxwell's definition of success. He defines success as, "knowing my purpose in life, growing to my full potential, and sowing seeds that benefit others." How different would our world be if that was the vision of success that people were striving for? Far too often, however, the pervading definition of success centers more around doing whatever it takes to win and stepping on whoever I need to step on along the way. If you want to get a vivid understanding of what I mean by this, I encourage you to watch the movie, The Founder. It's the story of how Ray Kroc built McDonald's into one of the largest restaurant franchises in the world. I was pretty depressed after watching it.
- Insecurity - Are you solid in who you are at the core? Do you like who you are? Are you clear on your values? Do you know who you aren't? Insecure leaders will often make decisions based on the desires, expectations, and values of others rather than aligning their decisions with their own values. They will often do things to be liked. They will try to be someone that they aren't. An insecure leader is like a ship without a rudder.
- Choosing convenience over character - Doing the right thing often means doing the hard thing. It means choosing principles over pleasure. Our world is being devastated by the philosophy of situational ethics, doing what serves us best in the moment. The Josephson Institute of Ethics, a nonprofit organization that exists to improve the ethical quality of society, states: “Ethics is about how we meet the challenge of doing the right thing when that will cost more than we want to pay."
Bill George, in his book, True North wrote, “Real integrity results from integrating all aspects of your life so that you are true to yourself in all settings.”
As you reflect on these 3 factors, which one personally challenges you the most? What needs to change in order to strengthen your character and become that leader who is "true to yourself in all settings?"