En route to my hotel on the Sunshine Coast recently I had the pleasure of talking to Wendy my taxi driver. A chatty woman, Wendy did most of the talking but thankfully she was both interesting and insightful. One thing she said struck a particularly strong cord with me – “our integrity is our power”. There are lots of different ways in which integrity is defined; to me it relates to the extent to which our actions are honourable. That is the extent to which we behave with honesty, decency and with fairness. Integrity is also reflected in the consistency of our actions and commitment to both our word and espoused values.
As leaders it is our job to leverage the full potential of people to achieve the best possible results. In order to do that we need to influence the way people choose to behave. That is only possible when people are inspired to follow our lead and allow us to affect the way they think, feel and act. Regardless of how ‘powerful’ we may believe we are, no matter the authority bestowed upon us through position or rank, if people don’t want to be influenced by us they won’t be.
The real power we have is reflected in the choices we inspire people to make; about the energy they invest or behaviours they bring that enable success. I observe people just about every day doing only what they really have to; it is plain to see that there is more they could offer if they wanted to. Equally I observe people behave in ways that are counterproductive or diminish the ability for themselves or others to succeed. While at times these behaviors are driven by disinterest in their role, desire to be somewhere else or strained relationships with their peers, too often the real issue is the lack of respect or trust they have in their boss or the leaders of their organisation in general.
Being ‘bossy’, unkind, aggressive, demanding, ruthless or hard-nosed rarely inspires determined action or heartfelt commitment from people. The leaders I observe as being truly powerful are those people trust, respect, admire and ultimately consider honourable. As Wendy moved on to world peace and the environment, my mind wondered to the leaders who provide clear example of having power through integrity. The person that most clearly stood out in my mind is Nelson Mandela.
Throughout the 27 years he was incarcerated Nelson Mandela built and maintained an extraordinary following of people around the world who were inspired by his fight for justice for all South Africans. He was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength. Among the many reasons for the support he earned, was his consistent refusal to compromise his political position to obtain his own freedom. His unwavering commitment to his honorable cause was inspiring to many people.
These words taken from the Nelson Mandela Foundation website provide powerful insight into his life’s work to bring people together and create greater harmony “The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory seeks to contribute to a just society by promoting the vision and work of its Founder and convening dialogue around critical social issues. Our Founder, Mr. Nelson Mandela, based his entire life on the principle of dialogue and the art of listening and speaking to others; it is also the art of getting others to listen and speak to each other.”
There were many years when Nelson Mandela had little power bestowed through either position or even freedom, and yet the integrity with which he has lived his life has made him one of the most powerful people on our planet. I think he would agree with Wendy, that our integrity is our power.