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Dr. John C. Maxwell, one of the nation’s leading experts on leadership, notes that in one’s life – as a leader, manager or supervisor – there are many things that are beyond one’s control.


For example, in your current position, you cannot control what your people say about you or think about you. Moreover, you have no control over the decisions prospective clients make about your company or organization. You have no control over your competitors’ marketing tactics. And, finally, you cannot control the national economy, the stock market or the weather.

However, even in the midst of chaos, in a fickle economy, and in an uncertain environment, there is one element over which you do have absolute control. That is your integrity. “When it comes to being honest, principled and ethical,” Dr. Maxwell says, “you are the master of your own destiny. Other people and external forces might test it in various ways, but at the end of the day, you alone control your integrity.”

When it comes to integrity, there is no such thing as “compartmentalization.” It’s something you wear, manifest, and exhibit 24/7, 365.

Integrity is all-pervasive

Integrity permeates every aspect of our lives. It’s not a quality that we manifest only “at home” or “at church.” Integrity is not like a robe – something we wear when it feels right or something we put on and take off depending on how we feel in a particular circumstance, situation or event.

As Dr. Maxwell states, “People of integrity don’t live bifurcated lives; their morals, ethics, treatment of others and overall character are the same wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. This foundational element of leadership crosses economic, geographic, religious, cultural and socioeconomic boundaries.”

Federal Express founder Fred Smith says, “If you look at every religion in the world, they all have the identical Golden Rule, almost word for word. It does not make any difference what religion or geography it is. There are universally transferable fundamental truths about how you treat people in both the business world and in the larger scheme of things.”

So, living with, and in, integrity, each of us sets an example that has a far-reaching impact – over and above any words we utter.

Integrity and example

And so this notion of living with integrity leads to another, i.e., leading by example. In every leadership text ever written, in every leadership seminar or workshop offered, there is one sacrosanct principle that inevitably comes into play, namely, an effective leader or manager must lead by example. Why? Simply, people do what people see – at work, at home, at play.

Dr. Maxwell offers four ways the “leading by example” principle applies to our workplace:

“First of all, it’s the No. 1 motivational principle. If you want to motivate your people to go to a whole new level, get motivated to grow and develop yourself. Remember, people do what people see.”

Second, it’s the No. 1 training principle. “When someone asks me, ‘How do you train your people?’ I don’t have to think twice about it – people do what people see. If they see their leaders constantly learning and acquiring new skills and competencies, they’ll be inspired to do the same.”

Thirdly, “people do what people see” is the No. 1 mentoring principle. “What do you do when you mentor someone? With discernment and as appropriate to their challenges, you flesh out your life for them – you give them an insider’s view of what you’re experiencing and how you’re handling it.” The goal, of course, is for the person you’re mentoring to learn from your mistakes and successes so that when they are faced with something similar, they make the right choices.

Finally, it’s the No. 1 values principle. “A company might spend a great deal of time formulating impressive-sounding values statements and core beliefs, but these principles don’t mean anything unless the leaders in the company – from the corner office on down – model them consistently.”

When it comes to integrity and leading by example, it’s also critical to ensure the leadership is adhering to “right values.” Paul O’Neill, retired Alcoa chairman and former Treasury Secretary, says: “If people can find even trivial examples of deviation, those deviations will become the norm,” he says. “You really have to be almost religious in making sure that you don’t do something somebody can point to in a negative way.”

So, the bottom line, economically, financially and otherwise, is that if you choose to lead by example in a positive way in your organization, you must be committed to living a life of integrity. “When you’re right on the inside, you lead correctly on the outside.” It starts with you and spreads out to everyone in your circle of influence. If you want to be a successful leader, manager, or supervisor in these days of economic uncertainty and turbulence, live with integrity and lead by example. Remember, people do what people see – your people.

Some questions for self-reflection:

  • As a leader, manager or supervisor, how do you define integrity? As one of some six billion human beings  on the planet, how do you define integrity? Any difference?
  • How do you “show up” in integrity in your day-to-day interactions with stakeholders, e.g., supervisors, peers, direct reports, clients/customers, stockholders, the public, etc? With your spouse/partner, children, friends, neighbors…?
  • When it comes to integrity, would you say you lead by example? Do you feel your colleagues and peers (and others) would agree with you?
  • If you’re not batting a thousand when it comes to integrity, what one action can you take right now to begin to get back on the integrity track?
  • Do you ever wear integrity as a cloak – putting it on and taking it off when convenient? Why?
  • How did you learn about and experience integrity when you were growing up?

(c) 2014, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful.
Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.

What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”

I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.

I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, or pvajda(at)
You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.