INTEGRITY IN LEADERSHIP

INTEGRITY IN LEADERSHIP

A conceptual look at leadership and associated concepts.

More thoughts on Leadership with Andrew Amadi. Today, guest contributor Andrew steers the conversation to matters integrity.

The word integrity is very closely connected with leadership. It has two meanings. We mostly associate with the first, which relates to honesty moral uprightness. The second meaning is derived from the Latin origin integritas whose root means intact, whole, complete. A bicycle with just one link missing from its chain may seem complete but it has no integrity. It cannot operate as a bicycle, no matter how closely configured it may appear to be, it can’t be a bicycle. Same with effective leadership. This is where political leadership runs foul.

Very many politicians are not necessarily leading because they are simply disconnected from the purpose for which they set out or claimed to fulfill. We are now smack in the middle of that season here in Kenya where tens of thousands of aspirants will set out to fill the over 2,000 positions which will fall vacant in 8th August 2017. Many promises will be made. Almost no one will be held accountable to their promises. There are some leaders in the political landscape who say and do precisely what they mean. They are few and far between and many do not get a chance to be elected because the political landscape is generally skewed against them and in favour of the expedient who will say anything to get elected and then very quickly renege on their promises as soon as they are in office. Politics in Kenya is very contentious and a subject that I avoid to debate, for in very many cases it generates more heat than light.

I too have run for political office in Kenya. I will not go into the details, but I stood for election out of frustration and perhaps also it was my way of moaning my brother who had passed away earlier in that year. I did not get very far and I did not have much resources, but I learned very valuable lessons that I have taken home with me since then. I learnt that I do not need to be in office to lead. I learnt that I do have a voice and can sway opinions, policy and alter the course of events even without having major resources. I wrote down my commitments and circulated them widely , I spoke to everyone who cared and even did not care to listen.

A few years after this unsuccessful foray into politics, I went back and looked at the list and found that many of the things which I had committed to were getting done. The most notable was a promise to set up an annual marathon in Nairobi. I find that 15 years today, I am still committed to doing the things that I set out to do then, even though I am using different methods. I have found that I do not need to change who I am in order to fulfill my promise or purpose, I have to, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that I want to see “.

We often confuse populism with leadership and very many of our political leaders play to what is popular with the crowds. “It is a numbers game, you can’t eradicate tribalism in politics, you will never rid the country of corruption, you need a lot of money to be a politician ” these are some of the mantras that you will hear said, even by the well educated, presented as pragmatic realism. Yet, when we look back in history, the people who brought about lasting and unprecedented change were not pragmatic in that sense, they were very unreasonable and they stood by what they believed in, not because it was popular, but because it was necessary. Whether it was the campaigns for independence from colonial rule, slavery, civil rights and today, corruption. It is said that you have not lived until you find a cause so much greater than yourself that you are ready to die for it. It doesn’t have to be a lofty ideal.

Many here will identify that having a child brings out that level of commitment. I will discuss commitment as a subject on its own later. When one is complete, intact, united with who they are and what they stand for, then nothing in the world can move them. Courage comes from integrity. Integrity is expressed through our words and how we relate to our word. Words do matter. Language matters. There is nothing in the human experience today which exists outside of language. It is what we use to think, to describe, to communicate. I have integrity when me and my word are the same thing.

You have real power when your name can be spoken and it means something because everyone knows that your word is true. Reputation is built not just on what we say but on what we do. If my actions are consistent with my word, then I have integrity. The key part of integrity is not making promises that one cannot keep and also immediately correcting the situation when it becomes evident that the promise can’t be kept.

It is as much in big things as small things. It is almost life critical when the promise is made to an impressionable child. My headmaster in high school used to say “A promise made is a debt unpaid ” The burden of unfulfilled promises weighs as heavily as that of bankruptcy. In many ways they are similar and the most crippling of this debt is unfulfilled promises made to self. Saying “No” becomes one of the key tools for maintaining integrity. Keeping time, for me is another. I believe that we lag in progress in Africa because we do not keep time. If we did, then we would all have water by 2000 , electricity by 2020 and be a middle income country by 2030. Having integrity means accepting ones limitations and working with them. It is not popular to have integrity, but at least when one does, then they can fulfill their promises because what you say is what you are and there is nothing in between the lines.