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How to Lead with Integrity

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about the importance of belief-driven business in this information age. People today hunger for brands that express a compelling, genuine point of view and a strong sense of purpose. But before your business or brand can take a stand, you have to discover what drives you.

You see, great leaders do two things. One, they tell a Story that captivates people and inspires them to work collectively toward a common goal. This narrative is constructed from their lived experience, both personal and professional, and the core principles derived from those experiences. Two, they live that Story. They make decisions and take actions consistent with their beliefs, and this is where the real challenge lies.

It can be scary to lead – to step into the spotlight, bear your soul, and stand in the authority of your ideas, especially when doing so means going against the majority or status quo. But research shows that you lead your best when you know who you are and what you value, then lead from that strength. In the field of psychology, this stance is often called authentic leadership. 

Authenticity vs. Integrity

A leader is authentic by definition. They are “original,” singular in thought, vision, or purpose. It is a leader’s unwavering adherence to their beliefs or mission that attracts followers, and their ability to translate vision into reality that sustains (or grows) their following. In this way, a leader acts on their own authority but, more importantly, they ideally act with integrity.

The word “integrity” derives from the Latin word “integritatem,” meaning “soundness, wholeness, completeness.” Stemming from the same root, the word “integrate” means to “render whole.” Being a true leader requires much more than originality and action: it is to integrate the many facets of your character into a unified whole in order to cultivate the “calmness, curiosity, compassion, connectedness, confidence, creativity, courage, and clarity” that psychologist Richard Schwartz describes as the “8C’s of Self.” For this reason, leaders are complex and genuine, more full of solid character than sizzling personality.

A quick aside: the word “authenticity” carries a lot of baggage, but it has academic precedent in this context. Though I prefer to describe this style of leadership as “leading with integrity” or “standing in your authority,” I will use “authentic” in this section to reference the literature.

The concept of authentic leadership comes from Bill George’s 2003 book by that name. In it, George explains that most leadership literature describes how to fabricate the image or persona of a leader, not how to actually act, decide, and live as one. By this token, we look for external validation of our worthiness and abilities when, in fact, our strength as a leader lies within. True leadership, he argues, is defined by character, and one must cultivate purpose and principles in order to lead a company to success.

Authentic leadership has been the topic of much research and debate since George’s book was released. Studies have shown that workers’ perception of their employer as an authentic leader is the single strongest predictor of job satisfaction, while a Purpose at Work study, initiated by LinkedIn with the research company Imperative, showed that 85% of purpose-led companies showed positive growth. But the research agrees that an authentic leader is defined by four core characteristics:

  1. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence
    Authentic leaders are keenly aware of their strengths, flaws, and areas for improvement, and they don’t try to hide them. They are genuine and transparent in their actions. These leaders are socially adept, but also emotionally intelligent meaning they can control their emotions and act judiciously in interpersonal relationships. They work continuously on their personal and professional development, understanding that this growth is an ever-evolving process.
  2. Mission-driven
    Authentic leaders are not driven by ego, but by purpose. They are motivated not by power or prestige, but by empowering the people they lead. They define an enduring mission for their business or brand, and then are able to put their business’s goals and employees’ happiness ahead of their own self-interest. 
  3. Lead with heart and mind
    Successful leaders are undoubtedly shrewd and analytical, but they must possess a key trait to inspire a following: wonder. Imagination, emotions, and intuition are foundational faculties that drive and influence the rational brain. Authentic leaders harness these cognitive powers and apply them to their work in order to analyze problems from different perspectives and explore untrod terrain. What’s more, this style of leadership means they are empathic and communicate openly with peers and employees alike. 
  4. Long-term focus
    Authentic leaders are in it for the long haul. Rather than focus on quarterly gains, true leaders care about establishing long-term value for their shareholders and their customers through fulfilling their company’s promise. They nurture talent, invest in innovation, and adapt to change in order to remain true to their ultimate purpose, whether that is making the world a better place or providing exceptional customer service.

Now you know what an authentic leader looks like, but how do you become one? 

How to Lead with Integrity

When is the last time you stopped to look at your whole self? We seamlessly flip among the roles of entrepreneur, parent, partner, friend, but it is much more difficult to weave these aspects of our Self into one cohesive identity. By taking the time to develop a sound, whole, complete sense of Self, you can feel confident standing in the authority of your ideas to become an effective, empowering leader and invigorate your brand or business with purpose.

Here are four steps to start sculpting that sense of Self:

  1. Know thyself
    You cannot know your Self until you’ve practiced the deep, introspective work of looking at where you’ve been, where you want to be, and the principles that will guide you there. Forget what you think you should value and think of experiences that have taught you what really matters to you. Next, think about how you can translate those values into your everyday life and be realistic with yourself. For example, it is one thing to value your family and quite another to make them feel valued. Think of where family is on your priority list, how you express your love for them, and how they can best receive it. Think of the ways you may want to adjust your priorities or daily routine in order to reflect your core values. The same goes for business principles. 
  2. Define your purpose
    More than power or passion, purpose is what fuels us. To find yours, hush your analytical mind for a moment and ask yourself: What drives me? What makes me want to go to work everyday? Why do I create? Where do I want my business to be five, ten years from now? How will this help me achieve my personal goals? Let your heart answer, and if you are unsure, experiment! Test whether meeting a certain goal is gratifying and explore your passions until you find a path that fulfills you.
  3. Stand in your authority
    Once you have discovered your values and defined your purpose, act and act boldly. Stand in the truth of your idea. See how you grow, and how others’ lives, minds, and actions could be changed by your work. Set your intentions and use your beliefs as guiding behavioral principles. When your confidence wavers or you meet with backlash, check in with yourself: Am I living by the values I set for myself? Am I proud of the path I am on? Am I being true to my purpose? If so, ignore the haters. If not, change course. Consistency is key to establishing trust, so stand by your core beliefs but adapt to change and integrate new ideas. 

Leading with integrity can not only elevate you to do your best work: It can give you the clarity and confidence to flourish. With the bedrock of your beliefs underneath your feet, you can experiment, adapt, and break away from the habitual thought patterns that fence us in to trust your own authority and do the work that really matters. 

In this age of distraction, it can be difficult to find the time to do the deep work of self reflection required to find your purpose and pursue your ideas. But imagine having guided time, distraction-free zones, and trusted support to do just that. Imagine tuning your minds’ daily rhythms to find the flow you need in order to immerse yourself in creative challenges. If you’re ready to launch into your next chapter, or advance your purposeful project, I invite you to join me at Tracking Wonder’s 4 day deep dive retreat to learn how you can shape your own brave container to trust the authority of your own voice again.

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