For as long as leaders have existed, others have studied them. The ancient Chinese did it, the Greeks did it, the Romans did it, the Enlightenment Thinkers did it, and we do it today. Over the millennia, we have noticed what makes a good leader, one that followers will walk through walls for. The kind of leader who earns the emotional commitment of their followers, and not just their compliance.

One of the timeless traits that makes a good leader is Integrity.

It’s not sexy. It’s not new, or hip, or cool; it’s been around forever, and it works. So why don’t all leaders have it, even though every last one of us wants and expects it? Because it’s hard, and it’s easier to lie to ourselves and others.

  1. Lying is easy. For many leaders, it’s easier telling someone what they want to hear than sharing bad news. Or we feel like we can’t be honest because we would have to share our secrets. Or we think we are more likely to get what we want if we lie. Or maybe we get punished for telling the truth. Whatever the reason, lying is easier. But like eating a bowl full of sugar, lying is delicious at first but ultimately unfulfilling. You’ll feel bad about it later, then you will come crashing down.
  2. We lie to ourselves all the time. Human beings need to feel okay. In order to feel okay, we often delude ourselves: I’m going to get fit, I just need a nap first. Then some TV, just to clear my head. And then, maybe some ice cream. Leaders lie to themselves too: I’m sure if I ignore this performance problem and not give the person feedback, they will pick up on my subtle clues and change their behavior… right?
  3. Integrity is harder than we think. To have integrity, we have to be honest. Our words have to match our actions. We have to give others feedback and deal with tough situations. We have to hold others accountable and accept responsibility for our successes and failures. We have to look in the mirror and see ourselves as we really are, and then look out the window and see the world as it really is, not as we wish it to be.

Integrity in all its forms is tough ; it might be the toughest thing we have to do as a leader. But, if we can find our integral center and strive for it every day, we can develop the kind of relationships and reputation the ancient Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Enlightenment Thinkers would recognize—a leader with integrity that others are willing to walk through walls for.


Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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