Spiritual Leadership and the Need of Integrity

We have been looking at a series of qualities necessary for authentic spiritual leadership. Perhaps the most fundamental is integrity. Recent years evidence a series of shifts in the values people expect to discover in their leaders. Among the shifts we see new emphases on others, on service, on collaboration, and on family values. Some values seem to be perennial, among which we find respect, honesty, and integrity. This shift in values is part of recent theories of leadership that emphasize followers’ attributions to leaders, seeing leader-follower relationships as critical to the understanding of leadership. Nowadays, people want to see that their leaders are genuine, do not need to defend every issue that is questioned, and can maintain their values with humility. Some followers trust a leader based on experience, nowadays followers trust as an act of faith in the sincerity of a leader’s proclaimed values. So, from this perspective, two attitudes are critical to leadership, personal integrity in relation to one’s vision of life, and integrity in relation to the organization’s primary values, issues, and loyalties.  People need to know that their leaders are credible and are true to themselves in what they convey by word and life.  Integrity is a constitutive component of leadership. People want to have confidence in their leaders, knowing they will consistently live according to the vision and values they proclaim.  Since being an agent of change is essential to leadership, people need to be assured that the individual leading them through change is a person of integrity in terms of the communal vision and values.

Wise transformational leaders who need to constantly deal with ambiguity, with change, and frequently with conflicting solutions need to be people of integrity.  Then when they see solutions others do not see, their followers will still trust them.  The indispensable quality for leadership that holds everything else together is integrity, the balance between personal and public life.

Although integrity is so central, we also must acknowledge that people are not finding it, and they are crying out for it.  We all know individuals who had potential as leaders but never achieved a position of recognized faithfulness and integrity.  We talk about striving for excellence, but we know there is a lot of rottenness.  Some seem intellectually or spiritually maimed by inappropriate training.  Some potential leaders continue to do what they have always done and find enough work to keep themselves busy, as the thoughtful, polite undertakers of stable, declining, or dying organizations. Some leaders practice selective perception, only seeing what they want to see, seemingly unaware that eighty-five percent of all problems in an organization are caused by management.  Afraid of the future and insecure in interpreting the vision for changing times, some cling to non-essentials.  Some leaders still manifest the kind of neutrality which hides a commitment to the status quo, and followers quickly perceive the lack of integrity.  However, we need also to acknowledge that followers sometimes have such deep needs that they grant credibility to a leader even though they know integrity is lacking.

We have some great leaders in every walk of life, but besides them, we often have a lot of mediocre personalities in situations where they claim to be leading others who are clearly ahead of the leader.  The increasing problem of burnout in leadership, spiritual impoverishment in some cases, a passive stance by others, lower levels of self-esteem, have all weakened integrity.  Some  leaders feel their lives are controlled by outside forces.  Others, while achieving institutional goals, do not seem to attain their own full potential.  Some knowingly live with organizational disabilities, without the courage to confront or challenge.  Some current leaders, facing insecurity and challenge, generate myths about their own authority and expect followers to believe them.  Others have had serious problems, suffering as they do from the tyranny of petty laws. They allow structures and systems to continue when it is clear they are not working, and yet they are unwilling to change the organization and its culture.  Others are dominated by causes and not by the pursuit of truth.  Some traditions have a distorted understanding of their leaders, turning them into gurus and myths.  Some organizations intended to facilitate the charismatic end up obscuring it, promising care but delivering control, insisting on service but emphasizing authority.  In all these cases integrity is sacrificed.

Leaders in dysfunctional organizations frequently strive without success to generate the integrity that leads to trust. Trust is born from a combination of integrity and competence. Without integrity there is no trust. When workers practice secrecy, live in constant competition and jealousy, and do not show mutual respect, appreciation, and support, the resulting attitude is negative, evidences fear of rejection, and creates a sense of constant mutual distrust. Some managers become bureaucrats who give inadequate attention to followers, are unavailable for interpersonal reactions because of constant meetings, and ask for mere token involvement by others—attitudes that followers readily recognize and repay with distrust. Some managers do not trust others enough, claim authority in non-essentials, and lose themselves in organizational trivia. They end with inadequate time for their own personal growth and for quality time with others—attitudes that generate the same responses in followers. The lack of trust leads to fragmentation, competition, and reactiveness. When a leader pays lip service alone to the idea of creating an environment of trust, the followers give only lip service in return.

Leaders who strive to be recognized for integrity must build trusting environments around them. Leadership is achieved together, and it implies a bonding with others. An organization with a trusting environment appreciates diversity, shares values and vision, fosters good clear communication, and mutually challenges members to their tasks. It is at the same time centralized and decentralized; the leader appreciates that excellence in building a trusting environment demands constant focus on organizational culture. Today=s leaders must see themselves as creators of the values, mission, and spiritual dimension of an organization=s distinctiveness. In fact, they must have the courage to create a loving environment, constantly aware that without such an environment political infighting, petty jealousies, lies and distrust arise.

When a leader wishes to foster trust, he or she must highlight the positive, give clear visible evidence of trust, respect others= freedom, handle their mistakes well, and be ready to compromise to meet consensus. Trust includes the acceptance of risk—letting others be free enough to make their own choices and decisions. A leader must eliminate fear in the organization, create an atmosphere of interdependence, make it obvious that he or she appreciates the gifts of others, and that he or she yearns to collaborate by sharing concerns, values, and vision. The leader will need flexibility in dealing with others’ approaches, and a facility in living with ambiguity and tension as a step on the road to shared commitment.

Trust comes—and  an acknowledgment of integrity will follow—when  followers become convinced that a leader is worthy of them, that he or she approaches issues with well established prejudices of people over laws and collaboration over autocracy. Nowadays, followers trust a effective transformational leader who maintains a healthy concept of self, community, common vision, and mutual responsibility.

Trust implies a confident hope in others, relying on their authenticity and integrity—at times even before they have proved it. It is at the same time an expectation and an obligation—the emotional glue that binds leaders and followers together. Trust is earned by taking risks—allowing others to make their own choices. It implies treating others as dependable, deserving of confidence, and reliable. Trust is the foundation of collaboration and partnership in a shared vision and a common mission.


About Leonard Doohan

Dr. Leonard Doohan is Professor Emeritus at Gonzaga University where he was a professor of religious studies for 27 years and Dean of the Graduate School for 13 years. He has written 17 books and 160 articles and has given over 350 workshops throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the Far East. Leonard's recent books include Spiritual Leadership: the Quest for Integrity, in 2007, Enjoying Retirement: Living Life to the Fullest, in 2010, and Courageous Hope: The Call of Leadership, in 2011. Leonard's wife is Helen who was also a Professor Emerita at Gonzaga, specializing in the writings of Paul.

Posted on November 30, 2013, in Leadership and spirituality, Leadership and values, Leadership and vision, Spiritual leadership, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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