“A servant cannot be corrected by mere words; though he understands, he will not respond”– Proverbs 29:19
Why is it that some leaders can capture their people’s best efforts while others get only compliance? In his book “Integrity,” psychologist and business consultant Henry Cloud maintains that engaging others’ will is a function of the leader’s character.
When we think of “character” or “integrity,” usually we have in mind ethics and morals. But Cloud argues that integrity has a broader meaning than being honesty.
He points out that the “Oxford Dictionary” defines “integrity” as the quality of being honest, but also as the state of being unified, whole, undivided. Cloud: “When we are talking about integrity, we are talking about being a whole person, an integrated person, with all of our different parts delivering the functions that they were designed to deliver.” Following this definition, Cloud asserts that the most effective leaders are not just ethical, but also have other aspects of integrity, i.e. they are “running on all cylinders,” which enables them to be successful.
One of the “other” aspects of integrity, according to Cloud, is the ability to engage with people, to connect authentically with them. To illustrate, he cites the example of a CEO who took over a new company formed from the merger of two companies. This CEO was full of positive energy and great with numbers. In addition, he was a “nice guy.”
Retained to help with the merger, Cloud writes that the CEO did well when he addressed the management teams of both companies for the first time, as long as he talked about the analysis of the industry and the opportunities created by a changing world. But when he ended his presentation and took questions, “it all fell apart.”
One after another, the managers expressed deep concern about layoffs, employee benefits, and merging the two cultures. In each case, Cloud notes, the CEO’s response failed to connect with the people’s apprehensions. Instead of identifying with his managers’ feelings in a way that let them know he had heard their hearts, he told them why their concerns were unjustified.
Proverbs 29:19 stresses that in developing an organization’s most valuable resource, facts and figures just won’t do the job unless they’re backed up with relationships. Cloud’s observation is that although the CEO was talented, competent and a nice guy, because he lacked integrity – i.e., he wasn’t “unified, whole, undivided” – he was unable to establish a heartfelt connection with his people. In turned out that in less than a year the CEO was gone.
In Cloud’s judgment this leader did not possess the ingredient most essential to engaging others, “empathy.” “He did not help the people see that he could be in their…shoes. And if we don’t feel that someone knows what it is like to be us, what they say has little credibility.”
Why do some struggle to empathize with others? Detachment. Cloud: “Connection is the opposite of ‘detachment,’ whereby a person is a kind of island to him- or herself…. Detachment is about not crossing the space to actually enter into another person’s world… Sadly, a lot of loving and nice people are detached in this way, and their relationships suffer for it.”
Overcoming detachment begins with (Cloud:) “seeing and caring about another person’s heart.” The Scriptures put it this way: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” And God promises to answer our appeals for help in pulling this off.
When as leaders we have the character to get out of ourselves long enough to know and value others, the reward is great, whether in business, marriage, friendship, or parenting. Instead of just pulling others along, there is an energy, says Cloud, that we feel that is the natural by-product of connectedness. “It is the ‘life force’ that fuels all sorts of drive, passion, and accomplishment in every aspect of life.”*
*In addition to Cloud’s book, the YouTube video, “Employee Engagement – Who’s Sinking Your Boat?” is an excellent resource on this topic.