Brad Lomenick, Catalyst: Accountability is one of the great engines of leadership longevity.
Integrity is essential to leadership. It is the first of John Maxwell’s famous 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Best-selling author on leadership Warren Bennis calls integrity “the most important characteristic of a leader.” In his memoir, Jack Welch, former GE executive, said integrity was his organization’s “No. 1 value.” He said they never had a corporate meeting where integrity wasn’t emphasized in his closing remarks.
We’ve witnessed integrity’s downfall over the last 30 or so years in almost every area of culture. Corporate scandals like Enron have rocked the business world. Televangelists’ affairs and priests’ molestation charges have shattered respect for religious institutions. Scandals among politicians, athletes and celebrities dominate headlines. As a result, we have grown increasingly cynical.
In a world of skeptics and pessimists, people are more attracted than ever to leaders of integrity. If you’re known as a person of character, you’ll attract better staff and keep them longer. You’ll draw more loyal members and more raving fans. Society longs for leaders of integrity.
To build integrity, begin by identifying land mines. What are the areas in which you are most vulnerable? What are hidden weaknesses that could blow up in your face? These could be pornography, coworkers to whom you are secretly attracted or uncontrollable greed. Once you identify these areas, establish an accountability system. Make the right thing easy to do and the wrong thing difficult, and ensure someone else is providing oversight. Leaders can’t afford to be insulated; accountability is one of the best ways to guard against it.
Unfortunately, many of my peers continue to wrestle with this. My friend Jim (not his real name) recently left his pastorate because of a marital failure. He traveled all the time and spent too much time with “friends” while on the road. Lack of accountability and some poor decisions caused him to blow up his marriage and wreck his life.
I struggle with land mines in my life too. Achievement is my idol, and I often catch myself deriving worth from my accomplishments. I also sometimes fall into a scarcity mindset instead of an abundance mindset, worrying through sleepless nights about whether people will actually attend our events and respond to our mission. If I’m not careful, I begin making impulsive and damaging decisions out of my anxiety.
As a result of my land mines, I have asked a few of my team members to speak honestly to me whenever they see me falling into these traps. I’ve even created a personal board of directors made up of friends who call me to account on anything and everything. None of us is too good, too spiritual or too moral to make mistakes.
Integrity is essential; therefore, accountability is one of the great engines of leadership longevity. Who speaks truth into your life? Who can honestly tell you when you are wrong and keep you in touch with reality? You can’t necessarily control your reputation, but you can control your character.
If you lead long enough, you will make poor decisions. You will compromise when you shouldn’t or stand firm when you need to flex. But integrity must always be in the forefront of your mind. Remember, character is built over time and in the small moments. The seemingly insignificant decisions you make when you think no one is watching or paying attention will carve your character. So don’t overlook everyday opportunities to build up your integrity—those incremental tests compose one’s greater character.