Recently we spoke of Authenticity and how we discern who we really are behind the behavior that represents what the outside world sees of us, our mask if you will. Leaders especially are faced with crucial decisions that may challenge their ability to be authentic. What they have to fall back on in tough situations is their integrity. It is a value so often thrown around like so many buzzwords and we, unfortunately, see the negative results around us in business, politics and even sports.

In his 1996 book “Integrity“, Yale Law Professor Stephen L. Carter writes that integrity requires three steps: “discerning what is right and what is wrong; acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong.” Each of these points is crucial to being a true leader of integrity.

Discerning what is right and wrong is a function of our personal values. We know what our true personal values are because they never waver regardless of the situation. They show up consistently when everyone is watching as much as when nobody is looking. They are also appreciated above and beyond our talents such that the two (values and talents) are never confused with each other nor are they ever viewed out of order in priority. It is what prevents us from idolizing a sports figure or entertainment personality with poor values solely based on their talent on the field or on the screen respectively.

Saying what we believe also reflects our authentic self, only now we become visible and public. Of course, it is also now easy to create or manufacture a script we want others to hear, whether or not it is in alignment with our true beliefs and core values. In this environment especially, it is often risky for leaders to say what they truly believe. In my own experience, those leaders who have well-defined visions of their future, either personally or organizationally, leverage those visions as the backdrops for their script of the future.

Lastly, it boils down to what people see their leaders do. Leadership behavior becomes the ultimate barometer of integrity in that followers see the congruence between what their leaders say and what their leaders do. The best example of this in my mind takes me back to the Honor Code as a West Point Cadet. It states, ”A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do”. The first part of the code is easier to do than the second part because inaction (tolerating those who do) is just as detrimental as poor action. We only need to look around to see how those in authoritative positions in business, politics, and sports behave out of integrity not only in what they do, but also what they don’t do, but should do, in their leadership roles. Followers ultimately pass their final judgment on their leaders based on this behavior.

What we believe, we think. What we think, we do. What we do generates desired results. This is the essence of leadership and is at the core of being a leader with integrity when our beliefs, attitudes and actions all tell the same story. When all is said and done, how many of your followers will say to you – “Well Done”?