Most of us go through life believing we are good people. We don’t lie, we don’t cheat and we try to work hard. Most leaders are people who go the extra mile and do everything in their power to do the right thing. Yet every leader faces challenges, has things go wrong and suffers consequences of their decisions. Every leader has moments where they sit back and wonder how things could have possibly gone so wildly off base. I used to ask myself how I could care so much, work so hard and want to do good for others so badly and somehow have things still end up in a state of disaster. As many others feel, I felt like I was a good person with bad things happening to me. Then, I read Integrity: the Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality.
Author Dr. Henry Cloud has worked with leaders from a multitude of Fortune 500 companies and has a doctorate in psychology. He has combined his education and his experience into the expert niche of business leadership. The theory that he outlines in Integrity is that truly successful leaders have “integrity”, which, as he defines, is about having character; the ability to meet demands of reality (and not just about being a “good person”). Cloud identifies six character traits that make up a person of integrity. Loosely summarized, they are:
3. Results Focused
4. Embracing the Negative
5. Growth Focused
This book completely changed my perspective on what integrity means. It is not simply doing the right thing- but rather a lifelong pursuit to understand the full reality of all situations, and then rising to the challenge of meeting the demands of that reality. Dr. Cloud suggests that you cannot fully rise up if you have character issues that are holding you back. Every person does have character issues- things we need to work on, patterns from our childhood that are negative, and/or insecurities that hold us back. While it is impossible to ever be perfect, people who are truly successful are constantly working on developing their character as well as on their more tactile leadership or business skills. As we work on our character, we increase our ability to meet the demands of reality and thereby increase our integrity. And people with integrity are always successful.
“As a person goes through a company, he or she leaves a wake behind.”
Integrity, page 16
Picture a boat going across a body of water and the wake that it leaves behind. If the wake is smooth and in a straight line the boat is on course. If it starts to get choppy, there might be something off course. The wake can tell you a lot about how the boat is doing.
If you think about the people who have had a positive and negative impact on your life, you’ll be able to recall the wake they left behind. Some people are phenomenally strong at accomplishing tasks but lack people skills or the ability to understand how to treat people on their path to accomplishment. These people might accomplish sales targets but have a group of people in their wake who are hurt, upset and angry. Others are exceptionally strong with people, have the ability to build relationships but aren’t evaluating their performance or are missing something in their character that is leading to them missing performance results, leaving a wake of unfulfilled accomplishments and a resume of unsatisfied employers.
Cloud teaches that there are two sides to every wake – Tasks and Relationships. For all of us, the wake we leave behind can tell us a lot about our impact as leaders. No one is perfect. Even so, understanding what our personal wake looks like – in regards to both tasks and relationships – can give us real clues into where our character is breaking down. And, where our character is breaking down, it’s also preventing us from being able to deal with the demands of reality (have integrity) and perform at our very best. The more clearly we analyze and understand that wake, the more quickly and precisely we can improve our character.
“On the relationship side [of the wake] there are results… Were [the people you worked with] stretched and inspired to become more than they were before they worked with or for you? Did your relationship cause them to produce more?”
Integrity, page 18
An amazing question to ask yourself is summarized in the quote from the book above. Where were you working five years ago? Think of some of the people that you worked with. Think about what kind of a wake you have left with those people. How would they remember you?
Doing an evaluation of who you have touched and what relationships have had positive outcomes vs. negative outcomes can be hugely informative. Then keep this on your radar. Day to day, what wake are you leaving behind you with all of the people you work with? Why are things going well or not going well? Doing a simple “wake check” on a regular basis and can give you a really amazing reflection tool to weigh how things are going in your world.
“The immature character asks life to meet his demands. But the mature character meets the demands of life.”
Integrity, page 258
Everything we’ve talked about only matters if you choose to do something with it. Dr. Cloud is very clear in Integrity that it is up to each of us to work on the areas where we need to improve our character. If you are continually hiring the wrong teams because you are not patient enough to manage an interview process properly and the wake is a series of the wrong employees and an unhappy team, then you need to understand what in your character is causing the lack of patience, work on it and get help. “Self help” is a somewhat ironic term because if you are not strong in a certain area, it can be extremely difficult to help yourself. The other side, of course, is that no one can ultimately change you but you. The happy medium is to find someone to help, inspire or teach you who is strong in the particular area you’ve identified a need for growth.
Once you have identified things in your wake that you don’t want to leave behind anymore and have translated that knowledge into understanding something in your character make up that needs some work, we all need to go find someone(s) who is great at what we are not. We simply cannot “self help” ourselves in something we are not naturally strong at. So, build a personal team that is made up of a number of individuals who excel in character areas where you are weak and enjoy the process of learning from them. Strong leaders with high integrity are people who are consciously and constantly bettering themselves by surrounding themselves with people they can learn from.
Integrity, the book, changed my life. The concepts are simple but extremely empowering. The big reminder here is that we can do all the technical training in the world, we can work harder than anyone else and we can care a lot, but until we understand our character make up and develop our ability to truly meet the demands of reality in our world, we will realize the success we all aim for. This book reminds us that none of us our perfect. But, if we truly embrace that truth, and then consciously learn from and use the information found in our personal wakes, we can continue to improve and grown steadily into the leaders we wish to become.