On The Subject of Leadership 1

Our nation faces a crisis in leadership.  One persistent question raises its ugly head:  Where have all our leaders gone?

I’d like to offer some comments and perspectives on the subject of leadership.  There are many kinds of leaders, many styles, approaches and traits.  But, the most important leadership traits in my opinion are character and integrity.  The first of these, character may be defined as being selfless; having moral courage and the strength to always do the right thing as opposed to doing things right.  There is, of course a difference.  And one thing is absolutely certain…..

 “You cannot lead by memo or email; you cannot lead by shouting, berating or demeaning others; you cannot lead by abdicating your responsibilities and pointing fingers at others for your shortcomings or failures…..you must lead by example!” 

Most leadership traits are “gifts”…..either hereditary or God-given.  Character, on the other hand is a choice.  You choose to be a person of character.  Leaders are in the people business and the inspiration business and anyone who seeks to lead others must first have the character to inspire.  Good leaders seldom worry about who gets the credit; they only worry about getting the job done.  For them, the concept of being mission oriented holds real meaning.  Good leaders are never afraid to tell the “Emperor that he has no clothes”.  And most of all, good leaders…successful leaders…..tell the truth in all things; they don’t worry about looking good, because, quite frankly, they are too busy being good! 

Good leaders have the moral courage to face up to any obstacle and to adapt, improvise and overcome them in order to complete their mission whether that be on the athletic field, the battlefield, the boardroom or in the marketplace.

But of all the moral and ethical guideposts that we have been brought up to recognize and value, the one that for me stands above all the rest is integrity.  Integrity, sadly is what is lacking in our leadership in Washington D.C. today and accounts for many of the problems we are experiencing here and abroad, including Covid.

But a word about integrity.  Integrity as I have been taught by the Good Sisters of Charity since the first grade, stands for soundness of moral principle and character…..uprightness…..honesty.  But, there is more.  Integrity is also an ideal, a goal to strive for.  And in the business of journalism, which is the business I have been involved in for most of my adult business life, integrity is a goal that can never be lost sight of.  Compromise your integrity just once, sacrifice it for some economic gain or political favor, present only one side of the story at the expense of the other, without research or facts, lie or stretch the truth to influence others and achieve some objective, and you will find yourself with declining support for your publication and worse, a lack of faith from your readers, the people you serve, and those employees whom you seek to lead. Integrity, not just in business but throughout life, means you report on the issues and the facts objectively and fairly and you do not take sides except in matters of great moral conscience and ethics as they relate to the people you serve and the people you lead

Good leaders are ever mindful of the words of John Stuart Mill, “all that is needed for evil to prosper is for good men to stand by and do nothing.”  Additionally, good leaders need to be steadfast in their resolve to walk in their integrity…always.

But what exactly is the meaning of this word integrity?  You may be surprised to learn the origins of this word.

The word integrity itself is a martial word that comes to us from an ancient Roman army tradition.  During the time of the Twelve Caesars, the Roman army would conduct early morning inspections.  As the inspecting centurion would come in front of each legionnaire, the soldier would strike with his right fist the armor breastplate that covered his heart.  The armor had to be strongest there to protect the heart from sword thrusts and arrow strikes.  As the soldier struck his armor he would shout “Integritas” which in Latin means material, wholeness, completeness and entirety.  The inspecting centurion would listen carefully for this affirmation and also for the sound that well-kept armor would give off.  Satisfied that the armor was sound and that the soldier beneath it was protected, he would move on to the next man.

At about the same time, the Praetorians or Imperial Guards were ascending into power and influence.  These were drawn from the best “politically correct” soldiers of the Legions.  They received the finest armor, equipment, housing and food.  They were also not required to shout ‘integritas” during inspections.  Instead, they struck their breastplate and shouted “Hail Caesar” to signify that their heart belonged to the Imperial personage, not to their unit, not to the institution of the Roman Legion, not to their cohort and not to a code of ideals and conduct that had been the hallmark of the Roman Army.  The Praetorians instead existed to serve the cause of a single man….Caesar.

A century passed and the rift between the Legion and the Imperial Bodyguard and its excesses grew larger. To signify the difference between the two organizations, the Legionnaire also no longer shouted “integritas” but shouted instead “Integer”…Latin for undiminished, complete, perfect.  It indicated that the soldier wearing the armor was of sound character.  He was complete in his integrity…his standards and morals were high.  He was not associated with the immoral conduct that was rapidly becoming the signature of the Praetorian Guards.

The armor of integrity continued to serve the Legions well.  For over four centuries they held the line against the Goths and Vandals.  But by 383 AD the social decline that infected the Republic ripe with widespread corruption, debauchery and treachery impacted the Praetorian Guard and began to have its effect on the Legions.  As a Fourth Century Roman General wrote:

            “When, because of laziness and negligence, parade ground drills were abandoned, the customary armor began to feel heavy since the soldiers rarely, if ever wore it.  Therefore, they first asked the emperor to set aside the breastplates and mail and then helmets.  So, our soldiers fought the Goths without any protection for the heart and head and were often beaten by archers.  Although there were many disasters which led to the loss of great cities, no one tried to restore the armor to the infantry.  They took their armor off and when their armor came off, so too came off their integrity” It was only a matter of a few years until the Legion rotted from within and discipline was sacrificed for expediency, that they were unable to hold the frontiers and suddenly, the barbarians were at the gates.  They were upon Rome itself.  Rome found itself mired in a crisis of leadership as well as the dangers of ignorance and complacency.  They lacked the moral fortitude and the strength of will to survive…and the Republic collapsed.  There is much we can learn from this history as Rome was the finest most disciplined military the world had ever seen…until it wasn’t.