Being a Leader of Integrity

Merle Burkholder | May 2014

A number of years ago I accompanied a friend to assist him in an attempt to return a vehicle he had purchased from an auto dealership. The dealership had charged him about $15,000 for a vehicle that had a retail book value of around $8,000. In addition to that, they had financed the vehicle through the dealership, with an annual interest rate of over 30%. In our discussions with the owner of the dealership, he refused to take the vehicle back or modify the loan. In the course of our conversations he told me that it was obvious that I know nothing about the car business. I told him that I am a pastor, and I may not know anything about the car business, but I do know about ethics. My knowledge of ethics told me that what he had done was wrong; it may have been profitable, but it was wrong.

My discussion with the owner of the car dealership raises the question of whether being good at business and being good at ethics are mutually exclusive. As Anabaptist people, we want our ethics to be part of our business values and practice. We believe that the end does not justify the means.

How are we going to conduct business in such a way that we follow our own Biblical, ethical values and still remain profitable as a business? I believe the answer to that question lies in men who focus on being leaders of integrity. These men will live lives of integrity, and will also provide the kind of leadership that will result in others within their organization doing the same.

In order to think about this, let’s define the terms “leader” and “integrity.” A leader is a person who goes first. We could compare a leader to a guide or a conductor of an orchestra; he knows the way to go, or what should be happening, and he helps others work together in an organized way to achieve the desired result.

John C. Maxwell said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” This is illustrated by the Biblical model of Ezra the scribe. In Ezra 7:10, Scripture tells us that “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” Here we have an important sequence: learn, do, and then teach. A true leader is one who learns, then applies what he has learned in his own life, and then shows, or teaches, others.

Samuel Johnson said, “Integrity without knowledge is weak, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” A leader who has acquired knowledge, but does not have integrity, is a difficult person to work with. Integrity is an essential quality for a skilled and accomplished leader.

What is integrity? Integrity is moral soundness, honesty, and freedom from corrupting influence or motive. Integrity exists when our inner thoughts, motives and intentions match our outward actions. This definition reflects the kind of life Jesus taught when He instructed us to live in such a way that we do not need to swear oaths—that our “yes” actually means “yes” and our “no” actually means “no.”

A young couple from our church was looking for a reasonably priced lake-shore home. This type of property is very difficult to find. They heard of a couple who was planning to sell their lake-shore home. On a Friday afternoon, after some discussions, they agreed on a price, and both couples verbally agreed to the sale. Over the weekend, many more people became aware of the possible sale of the home. The owner received over 20 phone calls about the home, and several other offers to purchase. One of those offers was $50,000 more than the verbal agreement. The purchasing couple was worried that after being so close to owning the home, the owner would choose to sell it for more than they could afford to pay. However, on Monday the owner contacted them and told them he was keeping the verbal agreement, and would sell them the home at the price they had agreed upon. Sometimes integrity costs us money. Everyone who has heard about the integrity of this selling couple has a new level of respect for them.

We all know from experience that living a life of integrity—being true to our values and beliefs—is not easy. We all face temptations, and they seem to come at the weakest points in our lives, in times when we are especially vulnerable. In the book Being God’s Man…In The Face of Temptation, Stephen Arterburn, Kenny Luck, and Todd Wendorff list eight areas of temptation that men face. They write that every man is tempted to:
1. Fold when hard times come
2. Have an undisciplined thought life
3. Give in to sexual temptation
4. Fudge when it comes to obedience
5. Compare himself with and judge others
6. Let loose with his tongue in anger
7. Believe the myth of materialism
8. Live in isolation from other men

As leaders we have more freedom to make choices. We have influence and control, by virtue of our positions, that make it possible for us to choose our actions with more freedom than most. We need to honestly set boundaries for ourselves. We need to remind ourselves that we have predetermined not to fudge facts, not to be immoral, not to hurt others with our words, not to live only for the accumulation of wealth, and not to live a life that is hidden from other men.

Being a leader of integrity requires humility. It requires accountability. It requires honesty. These Biblical character qualities are summed up in a list of “10 Universal Characteristics of Integrity” that were published in the May 2005 issue of the Optimize magazine:
1. You know that little things count
2. You find the white when others see gray
3. When you mess up, you fess up
4. You create a culture of trust
5. You keep your word
6. You care about the greater good
7. You are honest but modest
8. You act like you are being watched
9. You hire integrity
10. You stay the course

The corporate culture of your business or organization begins with you as a leader. If you are passionate about your own personal integrity, including your relationships within the company and with your clients and suppliers, your employees will tend to follow your lead. Often you set the standard by which your employees measure both themselves and their coworkers. If you model integrity, hire integrity, teach integrity, and reward integrity, you will most likely have a high level of integrity in your business.

Integrity is important for us as Anabaptist leaders. God has called us to lives of integrity. Leadership does not exempt us from that call. Micah was an Old Testament prophet who served God during the reigns of the Judean Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. It was a time of material prosperity.

God had a message for His people in prosperous times through the prophet Micah. In Micah 6:8, God gave His message and call to integrity: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

God calls us as leaders of integrity to do justly. We are responsible to do the right thing, even when others treat us wrongly. We know intellectually that two wrongs don’t make a right, yet we struggle not to treat others as they have treated us. A leader of integrity does the right thing and promotes justice. We can do this by treating others with fairness and equity. Incorporating the Golden Rule into our own thinking helps us to discern the right thing to do.

God calls us as leaders of integrity to love mercy. We tend to want mercy for ourselves and judgment for others. A leader of integrity knows when to extend mercy and demonstrate a caring and forgiving attitude. The leader of integrity cares well for his employees. He knows there are policies and rules that help a company or organization to minimize challenges, but he also knows that sometimes there can be exceptions to the rules without creating an undue hardship for the company.

God calls us as leaders of integrity to walk humbly with our God. Humility fits well with integrity. Remembering our own failures and lack of perfection can help us to turn our backs on arrogance and pride. We have been the recipients of God’s grace and forgiveness, and we can extend the same to others. A leader of integrity willingly submits to those in authority over him. He submits to government officials and policies, to those in spiritual authority, and to the Scriptures.

We live in a society that has not done well with integrity. Ethics are often situational. Morality has been sacrificed for convenience. Honesty is considered to be old fashioned. As Anabaptist leaders, our integrity is on display to a society that has lost its way. Be true to your God, and hold firm to your Biblically based values.

I once went to the police station with a man who had not only violated the laws of the land, but who had also violated Biblical commands and his own conscience. After he had made his confession to the police officer, the officer made a comment to this effect: “You have not only broken the laws of our country, you have broken the ethics of your faith, and the values by which you have lived. We can address the legal issues, but you have some larger breeches of trust that you will need to deal with.”

When we fail, may we be humble enough to repent. Let us strive to be true to God and to the Scriptures, and to live lives of integrity that are above reproach. I believe the world is looking for men of integrity. Let us be such men. Let us live lives of integrity, and also show and teach the way of integrity to others.