Stephen Covey’s kids shared a story about a time when they were all criticizing the (then) candidate for US President. He sat silent through the criticism. Finally, one of the kids asked him why he wasn’t participating. He said – “I might have a chance to influence him one day. And if I do, then I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

Recently, The New York Times reported that Facebook was developing a tool designed to suppress updates from certain parts of China. I found hypocrisy all around that piece of news. There was implied American moral superiority in the press at the idea of suppressing citizen views. Yet, as Edward Snowden and the recent elections have demonstrated, America has little reason to claim higher ground. Then, I saw posts from other technology entrepreneurs criticizing Mark Zuckerberg. But, would they have behaved any different if they were in Zuckerberg’s shoes? And, finally, Zuckerberg himself seemed to claim that this was Facebook acting for the greater good. I guess we all have to tell ourselves stories…

I thought I’d call this out not just because it was amusing looking at this situation from the sidelines. But, also because it made me think about the many occasions in which I was the hypocrite.

It is hard to see it when you are in it.

There is no easy way around this. The only way to avoid this is to have incredibly high standards for integrity – where we take the initiative to make commitments and keep them, every single time.

I just hope I’ll be able to build the sort of character to be able to do what Covey did, consistently. Integrity is a habit.

Cattle leadership

On one of Mandela’s long morning walks, he turned to his biographer and said – ‘You have never herded cattle, have you, Richard?’

Richard Stengel said he had not. Mandela nodded. As a young boy of eight, Mandela had spent long afternoons herding cattle for his mother or some others in the village. He explained, “You know, when you want to get the cattle to move in a certain direction, you stand at the back with a stick, and then you get a few of the cleverer cattle to go to the front and move in the direction that you want them to go. The rest of the cattle follow the few more-energetic cattle in the front, but you are really guiding them from the back.”

He paused. “That is how a leader should do his work.”

The idea Mandela wanted to convey that day is that leadership at its most fundamental is about moving people in a certain direction – usually through changing the direction of their thinking and their actions.

If you’re waiting for the opportunity to move people in a certain direction, look no further than yourself. Do you feel you are moving in a direction? Do you feel you changed the direction of your own thinking and actions? If so, why did you do it? Nelson Mandela’s greatness was not just because he succeeded in moving people in the right direction – he was, of course, outstanding at doing that. It was because he did so while living these principles himself. How else do you forgive those who kept you in prison for 26 years? It is that integrity – the consistency his words and actions – that made him an incredible leader.

Leadership begins within.

Integrity in action

Follow up is integrity in action.

In that instance when you and I promise to follow up, we begin a test of our integrity. We’ve made a commitment. The big question – will we keep it?

This follow up promise may be to ourselves or to others, may be light or serious – it doesn’t matter. The nature of the promise doesn’t matter either. It could be a first draft of a presentation to the CEO, a commitment to study, a promise to clean the house before your spouse gets in, or your word to join friends for a trip to the bowling alley.

As far as integrity goes, it’s all the same. We’ve made a commitment and the question hasn’t changed. Are we going to keep it?

Follow up is integrity in action. Take your own word seriously or you will stop doing so over time and everyone you know will follow your lead.

Showing up for meetings and being punctual

When I think of the various differences in culture in the many working environments around the world, there’s one that stands out. The more developed a country, the more showing up for meetings and being punctual was part of the culture. While this was religion in the more Germanic parts of the world, this was definitely optional in India (for example) versus China. As a result, calendars and organization only worked well in the more organized countries.

Or, to put it differently, calendars and organization were part of the culture in places that seemed to need it least. And, this was much less an individual trait as it was a cultural trait. The Japanese just have their proverbial “shit together.” “That’s just what we do in Japan” is all they would say. And, if we want to go one step further, I’d say that the next measure of development is the culture of preparation; the more developed and organized a culture, the more you can be sure your pre-reads will have been read. My guess is that this ability to constantly demonstrate integrity (or the ability to make and keep commitments) raises the trust levels and this, in turn, makes work environments better.

It has a powerful personal implication – our ability to consistently make commitments, be organized, prepare, and show up punctually to keep these commitments is what defines our development.

The small things are the big things.