The first duty of a leader is personal integrity. Whether in politics, athletics, business, education, or family, who the person is counts for more than what she does. His title, fame, or salary can never compensate for a lack of character.
We all know it is true, but we seem to have ignored it of late. So we have been willing to overlook a person's out-of-control lifestyle so long as he can still score points and win games for our team. We have tolerated flagrant excess and sexual infidelities so long as the bottom-line stayed strong.
We have put up with everything from perjury and kickbacks in public officials to abusive language and unfair treatment by owners and bosses. "After all," we said with straight faces, "someone's personal life has nothing to do with his competence for a public role."
But character, integrity, and honesty are alternate names for the thread that runs through those trustworthy people whose leadership we can trust. If a man or woman will deceive the mate to whom public promises were made and betray the children born to that union, he or she won't hesitate to step on you and me. People who are deceitful in one area of their lives will deceive whenever they deem it necessary. And the deciding factor will be their selfish interests, not the public trust or the good of stockholders and investors.
What these public misbehaviors call to our minds is what our mothers taught us as little children. Play nice. Tell the truth. Don't take things that don't belong to you. Treat people the way you want them to treat you.
People who rise to fortune, stardom, or high position tend to be exposed soon enough when their character is fundamentally flawed. But we have been willing to vote them back into office, buy their music, invest in their schemes, pay to see them play, and otherwise support them in their public roles. We lied to ourselves by saying we just didn't see the connection between private life and public life, who they are as people and what they do as professionals.
Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus studied 60 successful CEOs of major corporations and found that almost all of them were still married to their first spouse. People who value commitments and promises value them at every level. If they live them at home, they live them at work. If they don't honor them in their personal lives, they may not be working to do so in their business lives either.
The Bible says this: "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever follows perverse ways will be found out" (Proverbs 10:9). This ancient proverb is confirmed to us again and again. We deny it to our shame and dismay.
What is true of the headline-makers is true for you and me as well.
Dr Rubel Shelly is Pastor of Woodmont Hills Church of Christ, Nashville and authors Fax of Life a weekly service. He is the author of more than 20 books, including several which have been translated into languages such as Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Russian. To subscribe to Fax of Life, send email tofaxOfLife@woodmont.org