Today I’m turning the spotlight on one of the books I most often find myself recommending or gifting. I first read it back in 2014, when it appeared on my first ’Top 10 Reads’ list, and it remains one of my favourite reads of all time.
by Dr. Henry Cloud
If you’ve been following A Deliberate Life for a while, you might recall Dr. Cloud’s book coming up in posts like this, this and this. Cloud’s premise is that who a person is will ultimately determine the degree to which their skills, intelligence, knowledge and effort succeed, and whether that success can be sustained.
He uses the example of an airplane. If there are weak points in the makeup of the plane’s structure – if its structural integrity is lacking – then when it comes under the pressures and demands of flight, it won’t perform the way it’s supposed to, resulting in damage both to it and to other people. Our personhood is the same. If we are not whole – if there is not integrity of character – then those gaps will show up under the demands of life, and result in fall-out for both us and those around us.
He outlines six dimensions of character that we see in those who are committed to increasing in this kind of holistic integrity:
- The ability to connect authentically (which leads to trust)
- The ability to be oriented toward the truth (which leads to finding and operating in reality)
- The ability to work in a way that gets results and finishes well (which leads to reaching goals, profits, or the mission)
- The ability to embrace, engage, and deal with the negative (which leads to ending problems, resolving them, or transforming them)
- The ability to be oriented towards growth (which leads to increase)
- The ability to be transcendent (which leads to enlargement of the bigger picture and oneself)
One of the biggest takeaways for me from Integrity is Cloud’s concept of our ‘wake’ as leaders.
If we think of a boat moving through the water, then the wake left behind the boat has two sides. As we move through life as a leader, we too will leave a ‘wake’ behind us with two sides – tasks and relationships.
In other words, because of our leadership, what got done, and how did people experience us?
Some leaders don’t actually accomplish a whole lot, but everybody feels warm and fuzzy. Some leaders get a lot accomplished, but they leave a trail of bruised and burnt people behind them.
A healthy leader, operating in integrity, will leave a wake in which things got done, and people experience respect and connection.
The second big takeaway for me was the idea that “reality is always your friend.” By this Cloud doesn’t mean that what is happening in reality is always a positive thing, but rather that being willing to look reality full in the face – to chase it down, in fact – and grapple with the brutal facts, will always help you move forward more effectively and positively than not facing up to the truth of reality.
“Character is everything, depending on what demands are going to be put upon the design.”
“…if we don’t feel that someone knows what it is like to be us, what they say has little credibility.”
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (quoting Admiral Jim Stockdale)
“All things being equal, character wins.”
“Past being mean and uncaring, virtually nothing erodes respect in a person more than his or her inability to make the hard call.”
“Blame is the parking brake for improvement.”
“I have never met or observed a person with a truly whole, successful wake who did not confront well.”
“The invisible world of character is where the visible world always originates.”
“Universal values such as love, compassion, justice, freedom, honesty, faithfulness, responsibility, and the like are not really ‘optional’ any more than gravity. We can choose to ignore them and not bow to them, but if we do, there are inevitably consequences.”
Honestly, I truly think this is one of those books that is beneficial for anyone. For those who lead others, though, it is a treasure trove of wisdom, challenge and instruction. It would also make an excellent gift for a new high school or university graduate adjusting to the demands of adult life.
Check out the book here.