It’s been said that anyone who claims integrity isn’t an essential value should be required to drive a two-ton truck over a mile-long bridge that lacks it.
You don’t want a lack of integrity in the steel beams that support a bridge you need to cross, and you don’t want a lack of integrity in your leadership. But the truth of the matter is that you never really know if integrity is there, in a bridge or in a leader, until it is tested by the stress of weighty circumstances.
So how do you engineer integrity into your leadership so that it supports you when it’s most important?
Strengthen your strength
Integrity isn’t something that’s built. It’s something you are always building.
The most common analogy is that of human muscles. It takes consistent exercise to keep them strong. But the bridge metaphor also applies. Even after a bridge is finished, engineers continually test it and make reinforcements when and where necessary. If they don’t, the bridge can lose its integrity, as was the case in 2021 with the Hernando de Soto Bridge, a six-lane stretch of Interstate 40 that spans the Mississippi River from Memphis into Arkansas. When inspectors finally noticed a cracked beam, it had become so bad the bridge was shut down for three months.
Consistently doing the right thing in the small things builds and maintains strength for the big things. Ignoring the little things can shut down your leadership.
Lead without wax
Howard Hendricks was a preacher, writer, and professor who spent sixty years on the staff at Dallas Theological Seminary. And one of the many interesting things that stuck with his students was the way he signed his correspondence:
“Without Wax, Prof.”
Without wax comes from the Latin words sine (without) and ceras (wax). According to Stephen Graves, one of Hendrick’s students, Prof (as Hendricks was known) was playing off the legend about unscrupulous Greek and Roman artisans using colored wax to hide cracks and chips in their work. When the sun inevitably melted the wax in a vase or jar, it would leak, exposing the flaw. Thus, the ancient marketing campaign of labeling works as “without wax” to signify the integrity of their products.
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“Prof (Hendricks) adopted the phrase for his signature because it pointed to the importance of authenticity as a foundational principle for life and work in a culture consistently marked by shallowness or fakery,” Graves wrote in 41 Deposits: Crucial Conversations for Fathers and Sons.
Leaders with integrity don’t hide their flaws. They are authentic and transparent. They lead without wax.
Follow the lead of great leaders
Integrity doesn’t happen by accident. Leaders have to be intentional by defining what it looks like to them personally and in the context of their roles. And once the target is defined, they need a plan to build it.
Where can you find such a plan?
One thing that has worked for me is to look at other leaders who have proven themselves in difficult times and learn from them. What did they do to develop consistent integrity in their lives that I can model in mine?
The great thing is, you don’t have to have a personal relationship with great leaders to learn from them, because many have been the subject of books and articles or, in more current times, guests on a podcast.
I also appreciate the other leaders I’ve personally known and learned from — men and women like Mike Duke, the former CEO of Walmart who will be my next guest on the next episode of Off the Rak on April 20th.
Watch great leaders. Read about great leaders. Listen to great leaders. And follow great leaders. They can’t develop your integrity for you, but they can help you find your way to a type of leadership that’s authentic and trustworthy in the toughest of times.