“Do as I say, not as I do.” Whenever I hear this phrase I cringe inside. Leading by example is one of the top qualities followers desire of their leaders world wide. Yet, it seems to be in short supply among the leaders most visible to us.
“Do as I say, not as I do.” This well known admonition has been used by parents and authority figures for generations. Surprisingly, the origin of this saying is quite noble. Preachers of old acknowledged their personal shortcomings. Despite their desire to follow Jesus in perfect holiness, they knew that as human beings they would never be perfect. Only Jesus Christ was and is perfect. Knowing that they would fail in their aim for perfection, they instructed their congregation to follow the Word of God they zealously preached (“Do as I say”) rather than their imperfect example (“not as I do”).
“Do as I say, not as I do.” Unfortunately the saying has morphed to mean something very different. “Follow my commands as the leader, and do not pay attention to my example.” It illustrates the sometimes wide gap between authority and integrity. In today’s world, though, integrity is the greatest need in leadership. With our families, in ministry, on the job, in public and in private, a leader’s example matters. In every setting, a leader must practice what he or she preaches (or values) every moment of every single day.
You may be thinking, “That sounds like a lot of pressure!” Thankfully the Lord is not only our example of integrity, He also empowers us through His Spirit to live with integrity. He guides us to take steps that honor Him. He asks us to pay attention and be obedient.
What is integrity, this quality that is so foundational to influence? It is doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons in all circumstances whether or not anyone is watching. It involves honesty, trustworthiness, and steadfastness. However, it goes beyond disciplined and predictable behavior, and includes authenticity of the soul.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17, NLT).
Integrity is a characteristic that anyone can learn. Nobody is born with it. Nobody is born without it. Integrity is developed over time. A person’s reputation for integrity takes years to establish, while it can be destroyed in a moment. Integrity really matters. It must be nurtured and protected.
Here are some tangible ways to practice and develop integrity.
Be true to your promises. Even if you don’t say “I promise,” be a person of your word. Don’t tell people what you think they want to hear. Matthew 5:37 in the Message version provides a great explanation.
“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.”
Tell others when you face delays. Communicate quickly and often with people who are relying on you. Let them know your intentions to follow through on your word, and give them the appropriate information. Even though it feels uncomfortable, don’t avoid, ignore, or hide from them.
Ask for forgiveness when you fall short. Humble people realize they will make mistakes in their pursuit of integrity, and readily acknowledge when it happens. Apologizing to a loved one for your bad attitude, or sharing with your staff about an error you made can help restore integrity.
Extend grace to others. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31 AMP). How do you want others to treat you when you admit your mistakes? Do you want them to be understanding and forgiving? Then practice being gracious to others.
Being an amazing spouse, parent, or leader goes beyond being able to look good and perform well when others are watching. Unwavering integrity is a key ingredient for powerful influence wherever God has set us.
“To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).
“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3, NIV).
Heavenly Father, thank You for providing the perfect example of integrity. Your ways are always true and steadfast. I acknowledge that I often desire people to recognize me. I allow their opinions to affect my actions, instead of being directed by Your unconditional love for me. Help me to follow You with integrity whether or not others are watching. You always see me, and I want to live to please You alone. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.