Sine Qua Non

Sine Qua Non

In today’s leadership lexicon lesson we are addressing integrity. This is always an interesting discussion because no one believes that they lack integrity. In any room of people, ask how many of them consider themselves more ethical than average. Absent odd circumstances, nearly every hand will go up. If you then note to the gathering that, statistically, half of them are wrong, they will argue that they are ALL above average – that the unethical people simply aren’t within this group. This group has already self-selected into the upper echelons of integrity and ethical behavior, they will claim. This is really nothing more than hubris, and simply reinforces the starting point – half of them, statistically, are less ethical than average.

Without Integrity

Integrity is the soul of character. In Sustained Leadership WBS it is viewed in two parts – the values of the heart and the anchor of the spiritual dimension. Metaphorically your values of responsibility and loyalty are tied to the heart and feelings. The spiritual anchor you select is that external element that you recognize to be your guide and barometer against a stringent moral code – typically one that is unattainable to mankind without a stronger guiding force. Thus the person of integrity has a strong sense of allegiance to the proper moral anchor and a feeling of responsibility to live up to that standard. In simplest terms – this is integrity.

In Sustained Leadership WBS I define it in this way:

 WBS Dictionary: Integrity reflects your sense of right and wrong. When you act, or fail to act, your actions suggest those things you find acceptable and those that you find unacceptable. Within different subcultures the sense of right and wrong can be diametrically opposed to each other. Thus, integrity has less to do with external judgements of your actions than it has to do with consistency with your values and source of those values. Thus, in a gang of murderers, your integrity is measured by those mores. For sustained leadership, however, the values and the anchor for those values is based on broadly based societal standards rooted in the natural law. Thus, success within this element is calibrated on those leadership aspects most common to demonstrated success and the values reflected in a capitalistic society. While much of that is rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic, that is not a sine qua non[1] of leadership success. Other ethical standards can be applied in different societal applications.

Moral Anchor

Each of us has a moral anchor to which we subscribe. We might not call it that, but it exists nonetheless. As noted in the excerpt above, the code among criminals, thieves, gangs, and certain families might deviate considerably from what many in a “civilized society” might find acceptable. To that group, pride, ambition, and power are greater values than compassion, humility, and honesty. Within their system, those values define integrity. That might be hard to grasp, but it is important to understand that not everyone adheres to the same moral anchor or the same set of values.

Knowing Your Values

Once you understand this, you can begin to understand what motivates others and yourself. So-called amoral people often have very strong moral values – just not ones that align with yours. Differences of opinions are commonly rooted in this difference in values. This often becomes very pronounced in political discussions. These discussions deteriorate simply because people want to press their personal view of tactics and strategies without addressing the underlying issue of a difference in values and moral anchor.

Many people are so detached from knowing themselves that they do not know what they truly believe and certainly have no idea why they believe it. They adopt “positions” or “talking points” and insist on them whether during negotiations, policy discussions,  or political debates. Ultimately they cannot defend these positions because they cannot articulate the values or principles on which they are based. Knowing yourself is a starting point for understanding your character.

Self Discovery

For this reason you must deeply explore your own set of values; you must understand them and assure yourself that this is the set of values that match your internal constitution – that fit your heart and align with your anchor. Mass murderers and psychopaths operate from their own set of values and do not have trouble sleeping at night. Their morals and anchors are aligned. Not aligned with you or me, but aligned nonetheless. We seek our own sense of right and wrong and have a view of a civilized society that they do not share.

Thus, when we speak of integrity, we can only do so from a defined anchor and set of morals. Unfortunately too many people do not know what their anchor is and as a result they can be swayed with the drifting tides, flitting from philosophy to rationalization and often holding the opinion of the last person with whom they have spoken. These people cannot be trusted and consequently do not have integrity as the sustained leader understands the term.

Sine Qua Non

This is the thing, then, that makes a sustained leader a sustained leader.  Every other trait of leadership described in the WBS might be held by anyone in a leadership position. They might be charismatic and a great communicator. They may be deeply committed to a cause or vision or mission. They may even have a bias for action and great technical abilities. Without integrity they will not be able to enhance their base of followers and will wander off the path of their leadership journey. Worse, they can become permanently disqualified from ever becoming a leader.

From Socrates we learn that the quality that seems most distinctively human is the use of reason. “The function of man then is activity of the soul [thinking well and doing well] in accordance with reason.” We can think. We can choose. We can make a decision that serves us well or serves us poorly. We can make decisions that improve a civilized society or detract from it. And that choice is totally ours. Learn to make such choices with integrity and without self-interest. Even if you succeed in all the other Sustained Leadership WBS elements, you will still not be a sustained leader without integrity.

This material is derived from the book Sustained Leadership WBS and is found in section 1.2 Integrity. Buy book here

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[1] Sine qua non – “the thing without which” describes an essential element or condition; an indispensable ingredient.

With an extensive career in government contracting, Tom has found many examples, both good and bad, of leadership. These posts are based on his latest book, Sustained Leadership WBS, published by Morgan James. Tom is available to speak to your team on the importance of developing sustained leaders.


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