Each of us is a leader in one way or another. If the decisions you make and the way you live your life influences at least one other person, then you are a leader. As our nation prepares to celebrate Presidents’ Day, I would like to reflect on the theme of leadership, not from a political perspective, but from the perspective of what this column focuses on each week, namely the integration of spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational wellness.
In the previous sentence I used a form of the word that is related to what I believe is the most important ingredient in any successful leader, and that is integrity. Integrity is related to the word integration, and a successful leader is a person who lives their live in a way that is whole and undivided. They are integrated spiritually, physically, emotionally and relationally, in all aspects of their life.
Take a few minutes right now to think back over your life to people in your life whose leadership has had a positive effect on you.
As you look at the list of the people you remembered, whether they were your parent, teacher, coach, boss, religious leader, or political leader, I imagine that what they all have in common is that they were people of integrity. They were people you trusted, not only based on the content of their ideas, but also on the content of their character. They were probably also positive people who showed a strong integration between how they lived and how they led. The way they lived and treated people in their personal lives was congruent with how they led and treated people in their public roles.
Leadership is not only about knowledge and good ideas, although those are essential. Leadership is also about relationship, integrity, and trust. It is one thing to say, “I don’t agree with a leader’s position or decision on a particular topic.” It is quite another thing to say, “I don’t trust this leader, I don’t believe this person has integrity.” I can follow the lead of someone with whom I disagree, but who has integrity and is someone I trust. It is difficult, if not impossible, for me to follow the lead of someone who I believe does not have integrity, and who I do not trust.
There is no question that we are all leaders in some form or another, simply because we all influence the people we connect with on a regular basis. The question is whether we are leading with integrity and trust. Integrity and trustworthiness are not traits that can be faked. They are instead character traits that are developed from the inside out, and are demonstrated by an integration between how we live and how we lead over time.
I am not an expert on the life of Abraham Lincoln, one of the Presidents who inspired the creation of our Presidents’ Day holiday, but the people I know who have studied his life closely describe him as a person of strong character and integrity, and also a person of deep humility and vulnerability. It is well known that both Lincoln and his wife struggled with bouts of depression, a fact that perhaps can help dispel the myth that a leader has to always be perfect, strong, and in control.
As we think of the leaders who have most positively influenced us in our lives, may we aspire to be positive leaders ourselves, who while at times are imperfect and vulnerable, are known for living and leading our lives with trust and integrity.