When we hear the word integrity in the context of character we think of the definition of being honest and having strong moral principles. In his book, “Integrity”, Dr. Henry Cloud uses another definition of integrity, that of being whole or undivided, as in integral or intact. The idea here is wholeness of the person or the character of the person. Character is the most important ingredient of leadership, more important than talent, brains, education, training, or any other component of success. An integrated character determines a leader’s potential to succeed and to avoid the pitfalls that can befall those of lesser character.
The measure of character is described by Cloud as the “wake” that is left behind us. What do those with whom we interact see us leave behind in terms of tasks and relationships? How positive is our “wake”? Do people feel that they have grown and accomplished much because of us? Or are they glad that they survived with minimal damage?
Character guides our thoughts and behaviors. Dr. Cloud defines character as the ability to meet the demands of reality, a broader definition than sometimes used. Speaking of the various capabilities required to lead, he says that “while you don’t need all the gifts that exist in the world, you do need all the aspects of character while you are putting your gifts to work.” The book is focused on the aspects of wholeness or integrity of character that Dr. Cloud says are critical for effective leadership, as follows:
- “The ability to connect authentically (which leads to trust).
- The ability to be oriented toward the truth (which leads to finding and operating in reality).
- The ability to work in a way that gets results and finishes well (which leads to reaching goals, profits, or the mission).
- The ability to embrace, engage, and deal with the negative (which leads to ending problems, resolving them, or transforming them).
- The ability to be oriented toward growth (which leads to increase),
- The ability to be transcendent (which leads to enlargement of the bigger picture and oneself).”
Dr. Cloud makes the point that the integrity of character means that all of these aspects must work together. “Strengths turn into weaknesses without the other parts of a person to balance them out.” While no one has a perfect balance of these abilities, the gap is their need and opportunity for growth.
Trust is an essential element of a leadership relationship. Without trust leaders cannot influence. Trust is built through connecting, through extending favor, and through vulnerability. Connection is based on empathy. Entering into another person’s reality, validating it, and treating it with respect builds connection. Invalidation destroys connection. Another element of building trust is through extending favor. This is described as being for the other person’s best interest without being dependent upon anything. Trust is also dependent upon a certain degree of vulnerability that represents strength that one can depend on but vulnerable enough that one can identify with. Effective leaders need to have a balance of transparency that people can see their vulnerabilities and how they are feeling about things.
An orientation toward reality is a requirement for integrity of character. Leaders “must be in touch with what is, not what they wish things were or think things should be or are led by others to believe they are.” People who are oriented toward reality have a hunger for the truth, whether it be about themselves, their organization, their markets, other people, their relationships, or whatever. They prefer to seek the truth and to then deal with it effectively. They seek feedback from others. They understand themselves and can then work effectively with others to utilize their strengths and work effectively to shore up their weaknesses. They are able to assimilate and accommodate.
People of integrated character have an orientation toward getting results. They understand the concept of ready, aim, fire in decision making and the importance of each step. They are ready to move forward. When things don’t go well, that is another reality that they will deal with and overcome. Even more than that, they are able to let go of things that are good so that they can move on to the best.
The ability to embrace the negative is part of the integrated character. “The ones who succeed in life are the ones who realize that life is largely about solving problems.” Therefore they seek the negatives and seek to resolve them. They do not see the negatives as something painful but as opportunities to make things better and move forward. “Integrated characters are able to recover motivation, hope, judgment, clear thinking, drive, proactivity, and the other faculties needed to move something forward after something bad happens.” They are able to differentiate between themselves and things external. They are also able to confront well when others are causing the negative and to rally the others to work together against the problem.
People with integrated character are oriented toward increase. Previous aspects spoke about results but this aspect is focused on personal growth, both of themselves and those that surround them. One principle of growth is that what is put to use, grows. Leaders need to be open and to hunger for growth. They look for both opportunities and for mentors or coaches that can contribute to their growth. If they think they know it all or do not expose themselves to new experiences and sources for growth, then they will experience disintegration, not growth. Another characteristic of people oriented toward growth is that they want others to grow as well. Those of character balance hunger and gratitude. They value the present without settling for the status quo.
People of integrated character are oriented toward transcendence. “To live and flourish, we must bow to the things larger than us.” “A person with integrated character is a person who possesses the awareness that it is not all about him or her, and the ability and willingness to make the necessary adjustments to the things that transcend him or her at any given juncture.” The mature character stands by his or her values and meets the demands of life.
The integrated character that Dr. Cloud describes is somewhat ideal. Every human being is to some degree unintegrated. None of us have the complete array of the character aspects but, if we wish to maximize our effectiveness, we should be working to grow in all aspects. The book ends by urging us to identify our gaps and growth plans and to move forward.
This is a great book and a must-read in the area of character-based leadership.
What is the nature of your “wake”? How complete is your integrated character and what are your growth plans?