Follow the Leader

Quick! What is the most important trait for a leader to possess?

Enthusiasm?

Vision?

Inspiration?

Confidence?

According to Stephen Covey, "Research indicates that integrity is the most essential quality of an effective leader."

What exactly is integrity?


The Cambridge Dictionary definition reads as follows:


integrity: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles

Think about the leaders you currently work for or have worked for in the past.

Are these leaders honest?

Do these leaders have strong moral principles?

Unfortunately, too many educational leaders lack these virtues. Rather than model these qualities, they build a reputation for being unprofessional, immoral, and dishonest.

Don’t believe me? Google search the words “principal fired.” You will be shocked by the thousands of stories about principals who have made a name for themselves for the wrong reasons.

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Beyond honesty and strong moral principles, what are the characteristics of a virtuous school leader? Consider the five examples below:

Leaders with integrity...

  1. Eliminate workplace politics. When they notice harmful behavior, honorable leaders immediately address the issue. They make decisions based on deeply-held organizational values, not self-serving behaviors.

  2. Practice transparent decision-making. They openly share the decision-making process and clearly explain the rationale behind a decision, helping to remove staff skepticism and cynicism.

  3. Apologize. It takes a great deal of character to apologize. Noble leaders recognize when they make a mistake and take ownership by genuinely apologizing to those hurt by the action.

  4. Admit when they don't know something. Instead of claiming to have all the answers, leaders with integrity understand their weakness and work hard to attract people who can fill those gaps.

  5. Walk the walk. These leaders don't make empty promises, they follow through on their commitments. Ethical leaders are visible in day-to-day undertakings, and model the values they expect.

Speaking of being a role model, in 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership John Maxwell reminds us, “Just as children watch their parents and emulate their behavior, so do employees watching their bosses. People do what they see.”

School administrators must understand they are held to a higher level of responsibility. New leaders are suddenly thrust under the microscope of not just the faculty but of the entire community. Leaders with integrity embrace this responsibility and model the behaviors and attitudes they expect from their followers.


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How people handle increased authority will tell you a lot about their integrity. Some people stay true to the values they had before attaining a leadership position, while others feel entitled to act differently and abuse their power. In general, there are always signs of these character traits in the past if you look closely enough.


So often we think that power has changed people, when in fact it simply reveals more of who they are.

Looking for a great book about the importance of integrity? Consider reading The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.