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Leadership comes naturally to some, not all

Updated: December 10, 2009 - 2:27 pm

Posted: June 17, 2003

Leadership is like a river. A river shapes and nourishes the landscape through which it flows. It moves people from one place to another, provides power for creating and sustaining productivity and contributes to a larger body, which is richer for the river's contribution. Likewise, leadership is a dynamic force that flows through many of the roles we play in life, shaping, nourishing, moving and empowering the people we encounter. Leadership is instinctive in some people. It simply springs forth spontaneously when challenging situations arise. For the rest of us, however, leadership is a quality that we must consciously develop if we want to possess it. In order for the river of leadership to flow in our lives, we must recognize its tributaries and tap into them. The first and most important source of successful leadership is integrity. Without integrity, the other leadership sources don't matter very much. Known by other names —character, conviction, honesty, authenticity— integrity is a source of leadership that unfortunately has dried up in some companies of late.A new verb entered our language in 2002. Perhaps you know some investors or employees who were "enroned" (i.e., made to be the victims of a corporate scandal). People who placed their faith in some now notorious corporate leaders were rewarded with decimatLed retirement accounts and stock purchases that make a ticket for the Titanic look attractive.Here's a message circulating on the Internet that makes the point well: If you had bought $1,000 worth of Nortel stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49. With Enron, you would have $16.50 of the original $1,000. With WorldCom, you would have less than $5 left. If you had bought $1,000 worth of Budweiser (the beer, not the stock) one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the cans for the 10-cent deposit, you would have $214. Based on this scenario, prudent investment advice would be to drink heavily and recycle.In one year's time corporate scandals cost Americans more than $200 billion in lost investment savings, jobs, pension losses and tax revenues, according to one consumer- group report. Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Imclone, Global Crossing, Nortel —the list of corporate culprits is daunting. Is there any doubt that we are in the midst of a corporate leadership crisis of confidence?The word "integrity" has the same Latin root as the word "integer." You'll remember from your elementary school math classes that an integer is a whole number. It carries the sense of completeness. If you have integrity in your life, your are solid, sound, firm. You have no "fractions" or disconnected pieces in your character.Integrity comes from the values by which you live your life. What are the beliefs that form the foundation of your world view? Do you have principles that you will not compromise? Integrity is a reflection of the virtues that you value.Integrity is a stream that forms very early in our life. Our parents played a large role in determining how virtues such as honesty, fairness and authenticity flow into our everyday behaviors. In turn we provide that guidance to our children. Other influences, such as religious beliefs, honor codes and inspiring individuals also instill integrity in us. Ultimately, we can simply decide for ourselves that we will live a life of integrity because we chose to — because it's the right thing to do. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Polonius prepared his son Laertes to go off and face the world with this advice: "This above all: to thine own self be true; and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." What does it mean to be true to yourself as a leader? Try this exercise in self -discovery:Find a quiet place for reflection. Get comfortable (but don't lie down) and let your mind settle. Let the noise of your internal dialogue subside by turning your focus away from thoughts and feelings. Deep breathing can help. Listen to your inner voice, the one that comes from your conscience and intuition. Then ask yourself these questions and take note of the answers you get:What values are really important to me?How should they influence how I live my life?How can I get more connected to these values?What, if anything, should I change to bring my life more in line with my values?Practice this technique occasionally and compare the answers you get from one time to another. Begin to apply the insights you gain to the way you lead others."The measure of an individual's real character is what he would do if he would never be found out," wrote Thomas Macaulay. When in doubt about what to do, act as though you will be found out. Imagine that Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" is about to knock on your door. Then do the right thing. That is the essence of leadership.Mark Fulton is a leadership coach, writer and speaker. For more information about his leadership-coaching practice visit or call 533-9650. Fulton's future columns will focus on other sources for successful leadership.