The Lever of Integrity
Total integrity is the first lever of primary greatness. People who have lost integrity live and work in a world of seeming to be something they are not. Living a false life is a heavy burden on your conscience and on the people who rely on you. Total integrity lifts that burden from your life. Those who have primary greatness are people for whom total integrity is deeply inscribed in their character.
How do you arrive at integrity? Integrity is the child of two primary character traits: humility and courage. Humility means realizing that, over time, principles ultimately govern. A humble person doesn’t say, “I am in control,” or “I am in charge of my destiny.” That theme, so common in much of the success literature in recent decades, is a product of the social value system. And our social values may not be based on rock-solid principles but on the shifting sands of ego or opinion. Humility is, in a sense, the mother of all virtues, because all of them come through that spirit of submission to pragmatic reality.
The father of all virtues is courage, because when put to the test, courage defines our commitment to those virtues. Eventually, every value is tested. Whether we will align our values, our lives and our habits with those principles is the big question. In other words, will we really live by our principles? We may be humble, but are we courageous? Will we, in fact, swim upstream against very powerful social values or against our own individual tendencies?
When you have both humility and courage, you naturally develop integrity. Integrity means that your life is integrated around principles and that your security comes from within, not from without.
The Lever of Contribution
Primary greatness is achieved by those who have a mission, a purpose to serve that is higher than themselves, a lasting contribution to make. Many of us are tempted to take the easy way through life, never asking much of ourselves, and never ask the liberating questions, “What does the world need from me? How can I contribute to the lives of others?”
As we move toward the global economy and the new rules that govern the workplace, we’ll see more competition from high-quality and low-cost producers, and this competition will exceed anything we have known in the past, particularly as we see the emergence of Asian, South American, Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern economies. People will need to reconsider their own purposes and redesign themselves to accommodate the new reality. There are three things in particular:
• They need a sense of what true north is to them. They must define a personal mission based on a vision that contributes to the organization and a value system that is principle-centered, that will not change.
• They must be willing to bear risk. They must be willing to take three kinds of risk: in the way they speak, in the way they listen and in the way they act.
• They must make and keep a commitment to lifelong learning.
In addition, to achieve the line of sight between what the world needs and what you offer, you need to answer three questions: What does the world need? What am I good at? How can I best do what I like to do and meet real needs where I now work? In effect, you must become an artistic leader and follower.
The Lever of Priority
Shifting from secondary to primary greatness means that things we too often put first in our lives should actually be last. Some things are just plain more important than others; in fact, some things are so important — your life, your health, your family — that others are trivial by comparison. If your days are filled with “fatal distractions” such as trivial work tasks, gaming and endless entertainment, you need to press on the lever of true priorities.
What are the first things in your life? One good way to answer that question is by asking others, “What is unique about me? What are my unique gifts? What is it I can do that no one else can do?” Your unique talents and capabilities determine the important work you have to do in life. The tragedy is that our unique contribution is often never made because the important first things in our lives are choked out by other urgent things. Thus, some important works are never started or finished.
The path to personal effectiveness is a balancing process. Think through this process very carefully. “What are your responsibilities in life? Who are the people you care about?” The answers become the basis for thinking through your roles. Your goals are then set by asking, “What is the important future state for each relationship or responsibility?”
For many people, the dominant metaphor of life is still the clock. We value the clock for its speed and efficiency. The clock has its place and efficiency has its place, but only after you’ve achieved effectiveness. The symbol of effectiveness is the compass, because it provides direction — purpose, vision, perspective and balance.
To move from a clock mindset to a compass mindset, you focus on priorities instead of schedules. The clock can tell you when a meeting is going to be held, but it won’t tell you if the meeting is worth going to. Follow this time-management credo: “I will not be governed by the efficiency of the clock; I will be governed by the compass of my conscience.”
The Lever of Sacrifice
Primary greatness depends on the principle that we are better together than alone, that no one person can do it all and that no one ever made a worthwhile contribution all alone. To sacrifice means to revere. You can’t bond with an entity — a family, a team, a company — you can only bond with people. That bonding occurs when a sacrifice reveres what otherwise might be disregarded. As we treat one another with more love, kindness, courtesy, humility, patience and forgiveness, we encourage the same in return.
The same principle applies to any relationship, even in business. Partnering is a key to primary greatness. Unless we are willing to work together, to sacrifice our pride of ownership of our ideas or our image, we will not meet the ever-growing demands of the marketplace. The old levels of service will not meet future demands. It’s going to take a new level of empowerment, which will come through partnering.
• We need to partner up and down the channels with suppliers, distributors and customers; we need strong partnerships with all stakeholders.
• We need to partner with firms across functions. This is rarely done, because of powerful misaligned structures and systems that foster internal competition and comparison.
• We need to partner across lines of business. We gain synergy when we communicate across lines of business, not just across functions.
The Lever of Service
The principle of service is highly personal — it’s a giving of the self. The personal touch matters with 90 percent of people, and it empowers the rest. Selfishness is the source of our heaviest burdens in life, while serving others — lightening the burdens of others — is the very essence of primary greatness. Secondary greatness has nothing to do with service.
Why is this principle so important? Why does it open hearts and minds and doors? It’s because the deepest hunger of the human soul is to be recognized, valued, appreciated and understood. When you acknowledge the presence of others and adapt your presentation in an effort to reach them, in effect you say to them, “You matter. You’re a person of worth. You have intrinsic merit, and I’m not comparing you with anyone. You are precious. And if you allow me into your mind to leave a message, I know that I’m on sacred ground.”
How do you get this concern for the individual customer? Three ways: hire it, train it or cultivate it in the culture. You might hire it and train it, but the most powerful way to cultivate the service ethic is to develop strong social norms in the culture itself. When people begin to see that this is how we treat each other, you will then have a sustainable competitive advantage. The cultivation of the spirit of servant leadership will teach everyone to be kind, respectful and caring, even though some people aren’t naturally that way.
The Lever of Responsibility
Taking responsibility is essential to primary greatness. It’s easy to take responsibility for the good things in our lives, but the real test comes when things aren’t going well. Those who practice primary greatness know that their quality of life depends on their own choices, not on the choices of others or even their circumstances.
People often are offended — or they offend others — and then neither party has the humility to take full responsibility for their part. Instead, they rationalize and justify themselves. They look for evidence to support their perception of the other person, which only aggravates the original problem. Ultimately, they put each other into a mental-emotional prison.
You can’t come out of that prison until you pay the uttermost farthing. A farthing was a tiny English coin equaling one fourth of a penny. Paying the uttermost farthing means paying the price that’s required. It means a humble and complete acknowledgment of your responsibility for the problem, even though others might be partly responsible as well. If you take full responsibility for your part in it — and acknowledge it and apologize out of deep sincerity and concession of spirit — the other person will sense the utter sincerity of what you say. Of course, your behavior must then comport with that expression, so that others can see your integrity.
To pay the uttermost farthing, you might say, “I was wrong.” “I embarrassed you in front of your friends.” Or “I cut you off in that meeting, when you had made this tremendous preparation. And I’m not only going to apologize to you but also to the other people who were in that meeting, because they could see the way I dealt with you, and it offended them as well.” You make no effort to justify, explain, defend or blame in any way — you make every effort to pay the uttermost farthing in order to get out of prison. Only by making a complete and specific acknowledgement of your own failings or mistakes do you pay the uttermost farthing.
The Lever of Loyalty
People with primary greatness are loyal, not unquestioningly loyal, but they show the kind of loyalty that refuses to stereotype, castigate or label others in their absence. Too many of us carry the burden of disrespect for others, of conceit or even contempt for the imperfections of the people around us. We unload a tremendous weight from ourselves if we can cast off unrealistic expectations of others and stay loyal to them as human beings.
The ultimate test of primary greatness is to be loyal to people who are absent. When other people are not with you, they’re in the dark; they don’t know what you’re saying about them or whether you’re loyal to them. And that’s when you show your true character. That doesn’t mean you can’t be critical, but you’re constructively critical and loyal to the point that you would not be ashamed if they happened to overhear the conversation or if word were to get back to them, as it often does. You don’t just sit on the sideline cutting, labeling and stereotyping people and then look for evidence to support your disdain for them.
When you defend the integrity of a person who is absent, what does that say to those who are present? It says that you would do the same thing for them. Sure, it takes courage to speak up at the time. It’s much easier to say nothing. But I believe that if we have a chance to defend others or to speak up for our cherished beliefs and values, we need to do it.
The Lever of Reciprocity
Primary greatness is based on the principle of reciprocity — that what you give comes back to you. The concept of fairness is deeply ingrained in every culture. Those who believe in secondary greatness want to tip the scales of every human interaction in their favor — their motto is “WIFM”: What’s in it for me? By contrast, those who live by the principle of reciprocity know there is no win in life if others do not win too. How can we ensure that the most important relationships in our lives are reciprocal?
• Look first to yourself. Be honest with yourself first.
• Create intimacy. The more you bond, the more you care.
• Share knowledge and information.
• Include all stakeholder relationships.
• Care about those on the front lines.
• Choose mercy over “measure for measure.”
Recognize that others need love and understanding and mercy just as you do. These simple principles, consistently applied, ensure the kind of bonding that leads to primary greatness.
The Lever of Diversity
Sameness holds you down and drains your energy. Primary greatness seeks out diversity. Nothing kills success faster than being incapacitated by limited data and narrow thinking. Without diversity, there is no synergy, and without synergy, nothing new happens.
The natural tendency is to surround ourselves with people like us instead of creating a complementary team. Cloning yourself produces negative energy, because it inhibits other people’s talents and gifts. On the other hand, building a complementary team — which has one goal but many different roles, perceptions, methods and approaches — enables the full expression of talents and releases positive energy.
Why is the tendency to clone so prevalent and so strong? It is because cloning gives leaders a false sense of security. When you have people thinking like you, doing like you, speaking like you, referring to you, quoting you, dressing like you and grooming like you, then you feel that you’re being validated as a leader. You feel that you have value because other people value being like you. However, they’re telling you what you want to hear, not what you need to know. So you may get some artificial harmony, conformity or uniformity, but you won’t have much creativity, synergy, unity or security. Cloning comes from insecurity and from being centered on public opinion.
The new ideal is the complementary team where unity is achieved by those who have different talents — who have one vision and purpose but many roles, perceptions, capacities and duties. Unless you have a transcendent purpose and a shared value system, differences become negative and counterproductive — not positive and synergistic — simply because there isn’t unity on the fundamentals. If there’s unity on the fundamentals, you can tolerate differences in other areas and still have positive synergy.
The Lever of Learning
Secondary greatness isn’t very interested in learning, but primary greatness demands it. In business, a person who isn’t constantly upgrading his or her skills and knowledge becomes untrustworthy in time. Beyond this, learning is what we call a primary good, valuable for its own sake. The love of learning and the search for wisdom help make life worthwhile. We all have a moral obligation to the people who are important in our lives, as well as to ourselves, to learn and progress without ceasing.
We often talk of the need for continuing education in the context of work, but we rarely speak of it as a governing principle of life. In fact, continuous learning will save your life because, without it, you slip quickly into irrelevance.
A business can only do so much; the rest is up to the individual. As individuals, we ought to take into account the needs of the organization in our personal- and professional-development programs; otherwise, we may be developing for the wrong reason or at the wrong time. Our personal development should be relevant to the economy, to the industry, to the company and to our current assignment.
Among the many job-related learning options available to most people are research skills of analysis and synthesis, a personal reading program, review of classic literature and personal universities, such as TED talks or massive open online courses.
The Lever of Renewal
You can’t achieve primary greatness by neglecting yourself — your health, your mind, your emotional and spiritual life. Each of these vital areas of your life needs constant, even daily, renewal. Pushing the lever a little bit every day can offset a slow or even catastrophic downward decline in your personal energy and even save your life.
Act on four assumptions dealing with the four parts of human nature: physical, mental, social and spiritual. The ultimate personal synergy comes when we renew ourselves in all four dimensions regularly, on both personal and professional levels.
Physical assumption: Imagine you have already had one heart attack (personal) or one business failure (professional). Work on the assumption that you should live carefully, wisely, with a good exercise and nutrition program, so that you can have many, many more fulfilling years of life.
Mental assumption: Imagine that your knowledge (personal) and skills (professional) will be obsolete in three years. If you make this assumption — and it is accurate, by the way — you will get into serious systematic study and reading.
Social assumption: Imagine that everything you say about other people will be heard by them, both at home (personal) and at work (professional). You might still be critical, but your criticism will be far more responsible and constructive when you feel as if they are listening to what you say.
Spiritual assumption: Imagine that you will soon have a one-on-one accounting with the people you love and who love you (personal) and with your boss and team members (professional). In this personal interview, you will give an accounting of your stewardship: how well you are maintaining your physical health and fitness; what you have learned and how well you have employed knowledge and skills; how true and loyal you are to other people, especially behind their backs; and how well you are developing the spiritual side of your nature.
The Lever of Teaching
What’s the best way to internalize the levers of primary greatness you’ve just learned about? It’s simple: Teach them to others. As you do, your understanding of the levers will deepen. Others will look to you to exemplify those principles. You’ll become an authority on primary greatness.
There are four big advantages in applying this principle: you simply learn better when you teach; when you teach something you feel good about, you increase the likelihood of living by it; when you teach what you learn, you promote bonding in the relationship; and when you teach something you learn, it lubricates the change and growth process for yourself.
Remember, we are teaching something all the time, because we are constantly radiating who and what we are.
The end of a life filled with primary greatness is wisdom — a perspective that embraces principles, continuous growth and an integrated wholeness. It is a perspective that brings peace to the inner person and prosperity to the world. It is a perspective that brings security because the principles upon which we live our lives are solid, enduring and will never change.