Effective leadership is in high demand. People want the strongest, most qualified, most effective people to lead their churches as well as their communities, schools, and country. They are looking for leaders they can trust, as well as leaders of compassion, stability, and hope. They are looking for leaders with a solid foundation of good character and integrity.
Failure of leadership today is not the absence of competence or skills, but simply sustaining credibility and integrity with people. There is a growing need for courageous leaders who can and will face and navigate the challenges of today.
In the Sermon on Mount, Jesus teaches and trains his followers to do greater things than he has done. He begins with developing the inner life and moves to developing healthy relationships. When it comes to effective and courageous leadership, integrity is experienced in and through relationships.
Use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to assist you in developing healthy relationships as you become more of the leader God has created you to be.
Read Matthew 5:21-37
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So, when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift…
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart…
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you: Do not swear at all…Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. (Selected verses Matthew 5:21-37).
According to Matthew, God sent Jesus to teach us how to live a holy and righteous life. For him, a holy and righteous life had more to do with relationships than it did with the avoidance of impure thoughts or actions. It is more than being a nice person who says and does the right things. The holy life or righteous life is lived in relationship with God and with others.
To be holy or righteous is to love others as God in Jesus has loved you. You love with agape, not centered upon emotion or likes and dislikes, but centered in a conscious choice to love as you have been loved. So, being an effective leader means you lead with love. Leading with love is relational. Here is where leading with integrity comes in.
Too often we limit integrity to outward actions or decisions, like acting with integrity. We see it as one of the keys to positive and productive work. Integrity in leaders is usually referred to as being honest, trustworthy, and reliable. Leaders with integrity not only talk the talk but walk the walk. They practice what they preach. They own up to their mistakes, as opposed to hiding them, blaming others, or making excuses.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong or ineffective with acting with integrity. Believe me, I wish there were more of us who did live and act with integrity. But too often we limit our understanding of integrity to outward actions.
Holiness & Righteousness
Jesus is teaching, in the Sermon on Mount, that holiness and righteousness are deeper than what you do or don’t do. He is teaching that holiness and righteousness are who you are. The holy life or righteous life is lived in relationship with God and with others at the deepest levels of your life.
So, he says (Bias translation), “just because you have not murdered someone does not make you righteous.” Holiness goes to the root of who you are, to your anger, to your name-calling. Your integrity is seen in your relationship, not in what you do or don’t do.
In fact, relationships are so important, “when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift…” And, even deeper than that, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Integrity is experienced in your relationships with others.
It is the same with adultery and divorce. You are not holy or righteous because you are sexually pure or not at fault in a broken relationship. I celebrate with you that you are not an adulterer and that you have not been divorced. But the point to Jesus’ teaching is the integrity of relationships. Being a beloved child of God, you are interacting with others as beloved daughters and sons of God. Your integrity is not seen in what you do or don’t do as much as in who you are in relation to others.
The Depth of Integrity
Integrity is so deep, who you are can be counted upon even in what you say. “Let your word be your truth.” Your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” Your righteousness is your integrity. It shows up in your verbal agreements, but it is who you are in what you say.
So, if you are a person of integrity, it is not in what you do or don’t do. It is in your love and care of the people around you. Leading with integrity means you lead with love and grace.
Who you are is how you lead.
Continue to lead with trust, stability, compassion, and hope. The point of leading with integrity is that trust, stability, compassion, and hope is woven into the fabric of who you are more than the characteristics you try to emulate.
So, continue to be vulnerable and genuine with the people with whom you work. Look for the potential in others and equip them to live into it. Be generous in your assessments, giving the benefit of the doubt. Be courageous in your decision-making, creating a space for trust and collaboration.
Cultivate trust and compassion. Take pride in the work of the people entrusted to you and focus on their well-being. Be grateful for the work of your colleagues and give credit to whomever credit is due.
Lead with Love
Remember, you are leading with agape. Who you are is how you lead, so lead with:
Being vulnerable means you nurture a culture where people feel safe and where you, when struggling, find support and care. It takes courage to be vulnerable. Instead of hiding your failures and covering up your weaknesses, own them. Ask for feedback and learn from others. Your authenticity helps build trust and your capacity to care. Your experience of trust creates compassion for and acceptance of those around you.
Leading with integrity is difficult at times, but it is who you are.
Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Leading with integrity means you build trust by showing your capacity to care. It means you create a culture where people feel safe to speak up and where you are slow to shut people down.
It takes courage to listen. You know where you are going. You know the path that needs to be taken. And you know what needs to be done to navigate the barriers. Leading with integrity gives people the opportunity to be heard because that is who you are.
Being generous means that you make a genuine effort to understand others. Being generous means that you assume that your colleagues have good intentions, and are doing the best they can under the circumstances.
So, listen to what is being said, ask questions for clarity, explore their perspectives. It is easy to judge and blame when things do not work the way you want them to work. So, stay open and curious in conversations. Create an environment where people feel heard, seen, and cared for.
Leading with integrity means you are loving others as God in Christ has loved you. It is difficult to be generous when you are depending upon others to do quality work, but your practice of generosity will help you lead with integrity.
Give God thanks for the people you met today. In what situation did you act with holiness? Were your actions part of who you are or part of being nice? In what situations did you feel you were leading with integrity? How did you assist others in moving forward with integrity, of becoming more who God created them to be? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.
O God, I give you thanks for the assurance that you are shaping me more into the person you created me to be. Help me be more aware of my relationships and of the people you want me to love. By your grace, give the courage and grace to lead others into and through the difficult moments of loving others as you have loved me. As one of your beloved children, help me be a leader of integrity. I offer who I am to you in the name of Jesus. Amen.