The Crucible of Leadership: Integrity vs. “Being True to Yourself”

by Sep 4, 2023

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In the realm of leadership, principles and values often collide with personal whims and desires. One area where this becomes glaringly evident is in the concept of integrity. We live in an era where the phrase “being true to yourself” is often lauded as the highest form of authenticity.

But is it?

Let’s dig into the nuances of integrity and why it is a cornerstone of effective leadership, particularly when we juxtapose it against the idea of being “true to yourself.”

The Misconception of “Being True to Yourself”

The contemporary mantra of “being true to yourself” can sometimes be misinterpreted as carte blanche to prioritize personal feelings or desires over commitments, or as a justification for unethical behavior, such as not honoring agreements. This can manifest as broken promises, dodging responsibilities, or even strategically manipulating circumstances for personal gain.

The allure is that by “being true to yourself,” you may feel liberated, autonomous, and in control. However, these transient moments of self-serving actions often lead to compromised relationships, dwindling trust, and ultimately a toxic work culture. Being “true” to oneself at the cost of integrity can have a snowball effect that not only tarnishes your reputation but also leaves a lasting negative impact on the team and organization.

The Imperative of Integrity

Integrity, by contrast, is about doing the right thing even when it’s not easy, convenient, or self-serving. It’s about honoring commitments, being honest, and taking responsibility.

“Integrity is the framework upon which trust is built.”

Leaders who embody integrity earn the respect and loyalty of their team. They are reliable and transparent, always considering the long-term implications of their decisions. Integrity is not just an individual virtue but a cultural asset that fosters collaboration, encourages ethical behavior, and nurtures a wholesome environment.

Changing Course with Integrity vs. Without It

Life is not static; sometimes you may find that a previously made commitment no longer aligns with your or your organization’s goals. There is a right and wrong way to manage this situation.

The Wrong Way

Going back on a commitment without honest communication or due consideration falls into the realm of lacking integrity. Making such a change solely for personal convenience or immediate gains can lead to long-term reputational damage and lack of trust among team members.

Not only does the lack of integrity harm your credibility as a leader, but it also sends a dangerous message to your team about what is acceptable behavior. This can lead to a corrosive work culture where commitments are taken lightly, and trust is frequently eroded.

Once trust is compromised, it takes a significant amount of time and effort to rebuild. This has far-reaching consequences including poor team morale, diminished productivity, and increased attrition rates, creating a cycle that can be extremely hard to break.

The Right Way

The way to handle a commitment change with integrity is by being upfront, transparent, and considerate of its impact on all stakeholders involved. Open dialogue and fair negotiation are essential components. This doesn’t only mitigate the immediate fallout but also preserves long-term relationships and trust.

When you approach a change of commitment with integrity, you set an example of how challenges and alterations should be managed, upholding a standard for the entire team. Your actions in such scenarios don’t just stop at damage control; they enhance your standing as a trustworthy leader.

Teams are more resilient, understanding that changes occur but confident that these will be navigated responsibly. As a result, you contribute to building a culture that appreciates flexibility but also deeply respects integrity, thereby ensuring that change is met with adaptability rather than resistance.

Why Integrity Trumps “Being True to Yourself”

When you operate with integrity, you’re not being untrue to yourself; rather, you’re being true to a higher set of values. There’s a deeper authenticity in standing by your word, fulfilling your obligations, and being accountable for your actions.

Leaders with integrity know that their actions are not just about individual pursuits, but are interconnected with the team’s wellbeing, the company’s reputation, and ultimately, their own leadership legacy.

“The truest form of self is one that operates with honor, respects commitments, and understands the far-reaching impact of each decision made.”

Strategies for Cultivating Integrity

Having established the pivotal role of integrity in effective leadership, the natural question that arises is: How can one cultivate and maintain integrity? The journey to integrity is neither a one-time event nor a box to be checked off; it’s an ongoing process that requires deliberate effort and conscious decisions. Below are some actionable strategies to help you and your team cultivate integrity in both personal and professional settings.


Hold regular introspection sessions to assess if your actions align with your core values and those of the organization. Adjust as needed.

Beyond just your actions, introspection should also include questioning your motivations and examining the consequences, both intended and unintended, of your decisions.

Regular self-reflection ensures that you remain grounded, and aware of the ripple effects your leadership has. Use this time to recalibrate, make ethical choices, and guide your team with clear moral direction.

Encourage your team to also engage in this practice, making it a shared journey towards an environment rooted in integrity.

Open Communication

Promote a culture of open and honest communication. This helps in not only identifying potential integrity lapses but also fosters an environment of mutual respect.

Creating an environment of open communication goes beyond just honesty; it involves creating a safe space where team members feel comfortable sharing their concerns without fear of reprisal.

This level of openness can unveil potential issues before they escalate, giving you an opportunity to address them promptly.

The commitment to transparency cultivates a work atmosphere that is both high-performing and nurturing, which ultimately boosts collective morale and team cohesiveness.

Lead by Example

Your behavior sets the tone for the team. Operate with integrity in every facet, and you’ll inspire your team to do the same.

Being consistent in your actions reinforces your dedication to integrity. For example, if you expect punctuality from your team, ensure you are punctual as well. If you advocate for work-life balance, make sure you practice it too.

Your actions serve as a real-time guide for your team on how to behave and what to expect. When leaders uphold the same standards they demand, they not only encourage similar behavior but also build a culture of fairness and mutual respect.

Account for Mistakes

Own up to your mistakes openly and correct them. This shows your team that it’s human to err but essential to rectify.

Acknowledging mistakes not only shows your integrity but also creates an environment where learning from failures is accepted and even welcomed. Don’t just stop at taking accountability; also outline the steps you’re taking to prevent such an error from happening again.

This proactive approach to fault and resolution encourages your team members to be equally responsible, fostering an organization-wide culture of continual improvement and ethical conduct.

Prioritize Long-Term Relationships

Look beyond short-term gains and prioritize relationships. This builds a resilient network founded on trust.

This doesn’t just apply to external stakeholders or clients; it also extends to your team. Treating every interaction as a building block for a long-term relationship will naturally guide you towards choices rooted in integrity. Focus on creating value in every relationship, be it with team members, partners, or clients.

This long-term view not only helps in navigating short-term challenges but also contributes to building a robust, trustworthy network that can withstand the tests of both time and adversity.


In the complex tapestry of leadership, integrity stands out as a non-negotiable virtue, a cornerstone that supports the weight of not just individual careers but the collective soul of the organization.

So, as you navigate your leadership journey, it’s crucial to recognize that being “true to yourself” is not a hall pass to neglect commitments or forsake integrity. Instead, consider that perhaps the truest form of self is one that operates with honor, respects commitments, and understands the far-reaching impact of each decision made.

It’s the leaders who choose integrity over transient desires who not only build a legacy worth remembering but also foster a work environment where everyone is empowered to be their best selves. After all, being a leader is not about how far you can go alone, but how far you can lead others with you.

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