You Can't Lead Without Integrity – Period

Aspire to inspire before you expire.

You probably know the name “Al Capone,” but chances are you never heard of his lawyer Easy Eddie … so named because he did a great job of keeping Al out of jail, year after year.  And Al was grateful, paying Easy Eddie huge sums of money as well as buying him a house that covered an entire city block in the city of Chicago. 

While neither one of them was the “nicest” of people, they both have important lessons for us to learn … especially so if you’re a leader or a parent.

1.  Your integrity … or lack of it … is the most important example you can set. 

In addition to being a lawyer, Eddie was also a father.  And like many fathers, he gave his son everything he could.  But the one thing he most wanted to give his son he could not.  He could not give his son integrity, because he didn’t have any. Oh sure, Eddie tried to teach his son right from wrong.  He tried to set an example, and he tried to give his son a good name.  But what are your chances when your entire life and all your professional activity are pointed in the other direction?

2.  Your integrity has more to do with your actions than your words.

Eddie could talk the talk, but he was having a hard time walking the walk. 

Then someone confronted Easy Eddie with a question from the Good Book. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  It got to Eddie.  He began to reckon with the truth and not too long after, he went to the police and turned in Al Capone.

Eddie knew that if he was going to exhibit integrity, he had to get off his butt and make it happen.  And that’s the way it is with integrity.  It’s action oriented. 

Maria Bartiromo, the host of key CNBC and Wall Street Journal financial news programs, has written about that.  After observing businesses rise and fall and after interacting with the leaders of these companies, she developed “the ten laws of success.”  Her fifth law, quite simply, is “Integrity.  DO the right thing.”  Notice the emphasis on “doing” the right thing instead of just talking a good game.

Unfortunately, it’s not always “easy” to do the right thing. In fact…

3. Your integrity comes with a price tag. 

Easy Eddie found that out.  He did the right thing when he turned in Al Capone, but Easy Eddie paid a price.  His house was burned and he lost his life, but in his eyes he had given his son integrity.

And isn’t that the way it is with the most important things in life?  They cost you something.  After serving two terms in Iraq and Afghanistan, our son reminded us of that … that freedom is never “free.”  Someone had to pay a price for you to have it, and someone has got to pay a price for you to keep it.

Integrity comes with a price.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is …

4.  Your integrity may pay dividends for years to come.

That’s what happened in Butch O’Hare’s case.  He flew off the aircraft carrier, the “Lexington,” and he was on a mission with other pilots in World War II when he noticed, just after takeoff, that his fuel had not been topped off.  He needed to return to the ship for more fuel.  He notified another pilot in the formation as he headed back to the aircraft carrier, but in so doing, he saw a group of Japanese planes coming after the pilots he had just left. 

Butch tried to radio for help but didn’t get through.  So he headed straight into the path of the oncoming enemy planes.  He fired and one went down, then another and another, and as a last resort, he started attacking the remaining planes, trying to clip their wings or damage them in any way he could.  He was wounded himself and his plane was crippled, but he kept at it until … to his amazement … the remaining Japanese planes turned and fled.  Butch managed to get back to the ship safely and was rewarded for his courage and actions.  Later at age 29, he was killed on a similar mission.

Why tell you this story?  What’s the correlation between Easy Eddie and Butch O’Hare?  Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s son.  If you walk through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport today, you will see a memorial to Butch O’Hare and read about his life and why the airport was named after him.  He was a man of integrity. 

Easy Eddie not only gave his son integrity … that kept on paying dividends for years to come … but he gave him a name as well.  That’s the way it works with integrity.

As you begin this New Year, as you work on your new year’s resolutions, as you pursue your goals for this year, don’t rely on good intentions.  Do more than “hope” for integrity.  Chase after it. 

5.  Pursue integrity … along with all the other most and greatest items.

In fact, you might copy the following list, “The List of the Most And Greatest.”  Look at it every day.  Make sure you’re doing something to capture (or avoid) each and every one of these items and your new year will be the best year you’ve had so far.

The List of the Most And Greatest: 

  • The greatest joy … giving
  • The most satisfying work … helping others
  • The most effective sleeping pill … peace of mind
  • The greatest “shot in the arm” … encouragement
  • The most powerful force in life … love
  • The two most power-filled words … I can
  • The greatest asset … faith
  • The most beautiful attire … a smile
  • The most powerful channel of communication … prayer
  • The world’s most incredible computer … the human brain
  • The most endangered species … dedicated leaders
  • Our greatest natural resource … our youth
  • The most destructive habit … worry  
  • The greatest loss …self-respect  
  • The ugliest personality trait … selfishness 
  • The greatest problem to overcome … fear  
  • The most crippling failure disease … excuses  
  • The most dangerous person … a gossiper  
  • The worst thing to be without … hope
  • The deadliest weapon … the tongue  
  • The most worthless emotion … self-pity  
  • And the most contagious spirit … enthusiasm

Action:  Where do you find gaps between your talk and your walk?  Where is your integrity less than solid?  After you have identified one or two areas, write down two ways you’re going to fill in the gaps?