In 1986, I gained a new insight when I heard Dr. John Maxwell say, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” At the time, that new understanding both encouraged me and discouraged me. It encouraged me because I was making a fresh leadership start. I was preparing to launch a new church. It discouraged me when I reflected on the previous seven years of leading another church. That church was struggling and ready to disband. Did it flounder because of my leadership? Believe me, I could think of quite a few other glaring reasons why it was failing. I certainly did some personal inventory and tried to own my part in the deterioration of that church, but I determined I was going to spend most of my time looking forward out the windshield rather than spend all my time looking in the rearview mirror.
So fast forward another 33 years and I recently read the phrase by James Emery White, “Everything rises and falls on integrity.” He used an example of a friend of his (who was also a leadership mentor of mine). It was this man’s leadership gifts that caused him to rise to incredible influence and impact. But ultimately, it was his lack of integrity that caused him to crash and burn. Many have been disappointed, damaged and disillusioned.
I am reminded of something my successor, Cory Demmel, often tells our staff at Cape Christian: “Your gifts and talents can gain you a large following and bring you high regard. But your character is the only thing that will keep you there over the long haul.” Truth. Definitely. For certain. I’ve watched it so many times during my four decades of leadership. Talent and gifting take leaders upward and many follow their leadership. But then. Pride, arrogance, entitlement, facades and more lead to a shadow life. And that shadow life may lurk behind the curtain for a real long time while the stage persona accelerates upward. But pretty much always, sooner or later, the lack of integrity is revealed. The person isn’t who most everyone thought they were. And it all starts crumbling.
Business, politics, church, wherever. White’s phrase should be burned into our psyche,“Everything rises and falls on integrity.” Our integrity is probably the biggest gauge of the kind of legacy we will leave. In the dark recesses of our private life lurks the microbes for horrific failure. That’s sobering to me. I know enough about my ability to deceive myself that I find this almost downright scary. Do I have the accountability needed? Do I have enough fences built around my life to protect me from falling into the snare of temptation? Am I leaning into God’s strength and resources in such a way that I able to stand up against any distortions of truth and honorable living as I learned from my father?
Yes, this is my new phrase for the next 30 years: “Everything rises and falls on integrity.” No longer will I settle for “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” The new phrase doesn’t negate the old phrase I’ve used hundreds of times while training younger leaders. But I am keenly aware that integrity is much more of a hinge point for how I’ll be remembered, not just my leadership. I want to make sure young leaders know that truth. Their leadership gifts and talents may build their leadership influence platform. But the lack of integrity, in the end, will destroy that influence. Every leader is remembered by how they ended, not how they started or even their greatest successes. Everything rises and falls on integrity. That’s what I hope I never have to learn… the hard way.
QUESTION: What helps you maintain integrity in your life? (I’d love to hear it in the comment section below).