What Would you Do for $10,000,000? How Leaders Build Integrity

What are you willing to do for $10,000,000?

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James Patterson and Peter Kim published the book, The Day America Told the Truth in 1991. In their research they posed this question to 2,000 Americans in an anonymous survey. These are the results.

  • Would abandon their entire family (25%)
  • Would abandon their church (25%)
  • Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%)
  • Would give up their citizenships (16%)
  • Would leave their spouses (16%)
  • Would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free (10%)
  • Would kill a stranger (7%)
  • Would put their children up for adoption (3%)

These stats and others reveal that integrity is taking a beating today. Yet, leaders who truly want to honor God and effectively lead must lead with integrity.

One of the most interesting narratives in the Bible, the story about Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, illustrate how leaders build integrity. These young Hebrew men were conscripted into service for Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar after receiving three years of training.

As you read this qualities, rank yourself on each one.

Integrous leaders…

1. …willingly make tough choices.

Daniel refused to eat the king’s food offered to young conscripts (Daniel 1.8) because the Jewish law prohibited eating food offered in idol worship. He risked expulsion from the training academy and possibly death by making such a choice. He made the tough choice anyway.

2. …treat their critics and adversaries with respect. 

After the king’s wise men, of which Daniel was one, were unable to both tell the king a dream he had and interpret it, he issued an edict to have all the wise men executed. However, just before the execution Daniel approached the executioner with ‘tact,’ a Hebrew word used to describe taste (Daniel 2.14). The way Daniel approached the executioner literally left a good taste in the executioner’s mouth, a euphemism we use today to describe a good experience with another. This encounter opened up the door for Daniel to appeal to the king and interpret his dream which in turn prompted Nebuchadnezzar to rescend his decision.

Interesting brain insight: a part of our brain called the insult registers taste and emotional experiences with others like disgust and bitterness. Daniel’s interaction with the executioner kept the executioner’s brain from responding with these strong negative emotions, a wise example for we leaders when dealing with those who oppose us. Try to leave a good taste in the mouths of your critics.

3. … build their moral compass around Jesus.

When Daniel appeared before the king, he told him that no mere human could interpret his dream, but that the God of heaven could solve his conundrum. Daniel’s commitment to God served as his true north, his moral compass. Whenever Daniel faced a decision he always defaulted to what pleased God. This post describes how to build true north values into your life and leadership.

4. … remain consistent even in the small things of  life and leadership.

In Daniel’s later years he was faced with what appeared to be a small compromise. The then current king, King Darius, was tricked by leaders jealous of Daniel into issuing a 30-day edict requiring everyone to pray to the the king. Because they could find no character flaws in Daniel (Daniel 6.4), they resorted to trickery.

For decades Daniel had prayed to God three times a day and everyone knew it. Daniel, now in his 80’s, could have easily made this small compromise (pray to God in secret and fake prayers to the king) to avoid stress and difficulty in his old age. However, he refused to and was thrown into the lion’s den where God later rescued him. Great leaders refuse to cut corners, compromise, or hedge in even the small matters of life and leadership. 

5. …realize the people will either become bitter or better when they live with integrity.

Throughout the story, people responded to his integrity in one of two ways. They either were threatened by it and hated Daniel because of his integrity or they lauded it. When leaders take a stand for integrity, not everyone will respect your stance, cheer you on, and affirm you. Some will do the opposite. Great leaders lead well regardless of how people respond to their integrity.

6. …model integrity for their kids and grandkids.

Although Daniel and his three friends don’t model this quality, it’s worth stating. Our kids and grandkids will more likely do what we do (and did) that what we say (or said).

Centuries ago the ancient Chinese were so fearful of their enemies on the north that they built the Great Wall of China, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was so high they knew no one could climb over it & so thick that nothing could break it down. Then they settled back to enjoy their security.

 But during the first 100 years of the wall’s existence, China was invaded 3 times. Not once did the enemy break down the wall or climb over its top. Each time they bribed a gatekeeper and marched right through the gates. According to the historians, the Chinese were so busy relying upon the walls of stone that they forgot to teach integrity to their children (source unknown).

Great leaders diligently seek to live, model, and build integrity into their lives. With integrity they spiritually thrive. Without it, their souls wither.

What other characteristics would describe an integrous leader?

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Healthy Leaders Look like an Avocado

I love avocados. They add a nice touch to a ham sandwich. And without them we wouldn’t enjoy guacamole with our chips. But avocados also provide a good metaphor for a healthy leader. Every leader needs a strong inner spiritual and emotional core, what I call a healthy spiritual immune system that helps us ward off leadership viruses like unhealthy people pleasing, margin-less leadership, and inflexibility. Here’s how an avocado pictures a healthy leader.

Avocado

If you peel away an avocado’s skin, two parts remain: the mushy green stuff and the pit. It doesn’t take much effort to remove the fleshy part of the avocado. You can easily cut it off or scrape it off. However, you can’t do the same with the seed. You can’t easily cut it or change its shape. Why? Because it’s solid.

A strong spiritual and emotional core (strong immune system) is like that large, solid seed in an avocado. We certainly must have a soft side, but at his core, a good leader is solid, in the good sense of the word.

However, with a weak spiritual immune system, a people pleaser, a margin-less leader, or an inflexible leader has a much smaller inner core and a much larger ‘squishy’ part. We easily morph and adapt to the pressures around us and lose parts of ourselves when we try to please others in an unhealthy way. And of course we could swing in the other direction as well when we become too ‘solid;’ that is, unyielding and inflexible.

One writer on this subject, Murray Bowen contrasted these two parts by calling one a ‘solid self’ and the other a ‘pseudo-self’ when he wrote these words.

The solid self says: “This is who I am, what I believe, what I stand for, and what I will or will not do in any given situation. The solid self is made up of clearly defined beliefs, opinions, convictions, and life principles….The pseudo-self is composed of a vast assortment of principles, beliefs, philosophies, and knowledge acquired because it is required or considered right by the group.” [Murray Bowen, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice (New York: Aronson, 1978), p. 365]

Evaluate yourself to see how solid or squishy you are as a leader.

SOLID VS SQUISHY leadership

Stands on principles vs changes to avoid other’s displeasure
Does what is right vs keeps the peace to keep others happy
Authentic vs pretend
Clings to God when pressured vs acquiesces to others when pressured
Listens to disagreement vs giving in to it or becoming defensive
Carefully considers differing viewpoints vs quickly embracing them to avoid someone’s displeasure
Thoughtfully responds vs automatically reacts

What other qualities do ‘solid’ leaders show in their leadership?

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Adapted by permission from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, IVP, 2014.