Dr. Kifleyesus Andemariam
Miriam is a lovely eleven years old girl. One afternoon, she expressed her desire to join the parish choir to her mother. But her mother, a single parent, did not permit her to join. Miriam asked: “why not?” The mother replied: “Because I said so”. While going out with her friend in the afternoon, Miriam’s mother ordered her: “I want you both to behave well. Do your homework, don’t fight, and keep the house in order. Don’t wait for me and eat your supper as soon as your brother returns.” That night the mother returned very late and drunk. Unfortunately this behavior was becoming a routine. Miriam felt very ashamed and angry by her mother’s behavior.
For how long will Miriam continue to respect the authority of her mother? People in authority or leadership positions lose the respect of their followers, if they don’t have integrity and discipline. A leader who uses double standards, indiscipline and is strict to others, is despised by the followers. Once, I heard some of our college students jokingly define the meaning of a manager as: “A manager is a person who has a lavishly furnished spacious office from where he gives orders to others to do the dirty work. They sweat while he only reads and signs papers. At the end, he takes all the credit for the success and leaves the blame of any failure to the employees.” Of course this is a joke. But if it were true, would you like to work with such a manager? Honestly speaking, I would be the first to leave the organization. Usually the best employees leave first. What a loss! The consequences are devastating to the organization (family, religious congregation, school, or business).
Recent research has shown that followers respond strongly to the example set by their leader. As Christian leaders, we are supposed to be exemplary to those under our charge. St. Peter advises us: “Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3 ESV). Similarly, St. Paul tells us “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain” (Titus 1:7 ESV). Even young ones in positions of responsibility over others, St. Paul instructs “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity”
(1 Tim. 4:12 ESV). The assumption is that a leader, for any position, has been adequately prepared for that responsibility. During the formation and development period, the future candidate grew in discipline by acquiring all the Christian virtues. The first and foremost discipline is: “The fear of the LORD” (Prov.1: 7); and “Love of God and neighbor´ (Lk.10: 27). But we are humans. We can easily slip back. We need to constantly watch over ourselves. The trick is to continue to motivate ourselves to grow further in the virtues that our fathers/mothers and teachers worked hard to teach us.
Now that we are parents, teachers, financiers, administrators or superiors, we need to have self-discipline and continue to learn and perfect ourselves so that we can lead by-example. In our introductory story of Miriam, the mother was not a consistent and exemplary. She failed to impress her daughter. We cannot produce results in others by giving instructions only. If we don’t walk the talk, the followers will ignore our instructions. Successful leaders/managers are more self-disciplined than their unsuccessful counterparts. They have well formed habits like:
Listening, respect, patience, modesty, selflessness, punctuality, organized, team playing, appreciative and meeting deadlines. As leaders, we need to always remember what Socrates said about those who want to change the world: “Let him that would move the world first move himself”. And the leader does not say, “Get going!” Instead he says, “Let’s go!” and leads the way. He does not walk behind with a whip; he is out in front with a banner” (Wilfred Peterson). It means, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” (Mahatma Gandhi).
The good news is that we can learn better work habits quickly with patience and self-discipline. A habit is simply a behavior done so often that it becomes automatic. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (Aristotle). Discipline, therefore, is the tool that can help a leader bring order in his life, first, then to his followers.
INTEGRITY AND CREDIBILITY
Integrity and credibility go hand in hand. We could say that integrity is a result of discipline. And this in turn, produces credibility. Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th U.S. President) says: “The supreme quality for a leader is unquestionably integrity.” Some others call it “character” of leadership. “These leaders with character are what they believe in; show consistency between their values, ethical reasoning and actions; develop positive psychological states such as confidence, optimism, hope, and resilience in themselves and their associates; and are widely known and respected for their integrity.” (Brian K. Cooper, et al. 2008,). Others call it ethical leader. The ethical leader understands and works on the basis of trust, respect, integrity, honesty, fairness, equity, justice and compassion. The understanding is when one acts and lives in harmony with these basic principles, human enterprise flourishes and is sustained (Gen Ronald R. Fogleman, Chief of staff, United States Air Force, AU-24, Concepts for Air Force Leadership).
Moreover, Dr. Robert Turknett, psychologist, developed a leadership character model where integrity is the foundation. He believes that without integrity, no leader can be successful. According to him, leaders with integrity will consistently do what is “right” and what is expected of them. They are reliable and predictable in dealing with others and with issues, and they are defenders of what is fair, just, and acceptable. They do not twist facts for personal advantage; they are willing to stand up for and defend what is right; they will be careful to keep promises; and they can be counted on to tell the truth.
A leader with integrity is credible and will always have a following. Therefore, we are called upon to work on our integrity first before blaming others.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER ABOUT:
• Do I lead with a clear vision and action? Am I early to rise and late to sleep to accomplish the vision?
• What values do I stand for which I don’t compromise for anything? Am I predictable in terms of principles and values I follow? Would the followers be proud of them?
• Am I ready to learn continuously to improve my character (including people under my charge)?
• Do my people see me as an example or model of hard work, punctuality, patience, cooperation, and team player? Am I ready to help and support others, especially the young, inexperienced, or in anyway weaker than the others?
• Am I true to myself? Do I walk the talk? Do I give precedence to others’ needs and interests? Am I willing to do the challenging or demanding work myself?
• Am I magnanimous in forgiving others? Do I help my team to resolve honestly the conflicts that arise? Am I consistent in the enforcement of disciplinary standards?
• Am I a good listener? Do people avoid me because of my bad temper? Do I act honestly on their reports and feedback?
• Do I feel like one of them (followers)? Do they take me as one of them and trust me?
• Is there anything that weakens my
character? What am I doing to change that? Did I stop trying to climb the mountain?
No one is perfect. We will find many gaps that we need to fill. Good leaders have the courage to honestly admit their imperfections and they are determined to keep themselves in shape. To lead they need to be ahead of the others.
If integrity is the choice to always do the right thing, even when people are not around to see, we need to lead a disciplined life. The ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses and to pursue what one thinks is right, despite temptations to abandon it, is known as self-discipline. A leader will need this tool to be of good example to others. I am sure that each of us, as leaders, would like to inspire, motivate and change for better the people we supervise and work with.
Definitely, discipline and integrity will pave way to credibility. Credibility is earned over time. It is the result of time and energy invested to build and shape your own character. Once people trust us, they will willingly follow us. We don’t need to shout everyday to get things done. Our good example will do that.
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