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Relaxed and Real: Leading in Alignment and Integrity

Integrity. It’s a word that almost everyone uses when asked to name the most important values or attributes of a successful organization or leader and a desirable a partner or friend. But what does it mean?

Most people respond to that question with “it’s an individual organization they can trust” and they often equate the word integrity with the word honest. Something about that hasn’t always sat right with me. I have issue with equating those words because I know a lot of honest people who I would not trust (or enjoy being around for that matter). They are honest but the way they go about it is reckless and hurts other people. (P.S. I have been one of these people).

Without taking you down the full and long rabbit trail I’ve been on with this word integrity, I would offer that I have personally come to know and trust that people, teams and organizations are operating in integrity when they are “relaxed and real.” Real is something we experience with our intuition, a feeling we get with our gut. We have to trust that for ourselves and we just know it.

When I think of integrity, I always come back to this saying that our insides match our outsides, but I can’t see your insides. (Note: I probably don’t want to – none of us want to see the dark corners of each other’s minds). So how would I know that the insides match the outsides? What would be the behavior I would experience from you?

You would be relaxed and real. You have nothing to hide. That’s what I would experience. You would be able to exhibit these behaviors because your intentions are good. Your heart is pure. You are clear about who you are (and who you’re not), what you want (and what you don’t), etc.

The opposite of this is being tense and reactive. This is a sign to me that someone is out of their integrity. In my work coaching executives and in my own personal experience, there are several, many accidental and innocent reasons, we can find ourselves out of our integrity. I find people are often tense and reactive because they aren’t clear on their role, goals and priorities. Because they aren’t confident in what they should be doing and that they are doing it “well” or “right” they feel scattered, confused, frustrated and a myriad of other emotions that come across as tense. They get defensive because they feel they’re being called out or will be found out.

For others, being tense and reactive – thus out of integrity – is a pattern of protective behavior they’ve been in their whole life. Maybe it was signaled to them from an early age that they weren’t safe to be open or honest about their thoughts and feelings by the response and behavior of those around them. I know that was true for me before I became aware of my own behavioral pattern. Growing up it wasn’t safe or advantageous for my outsides to match my insides so I pretended and defended.

If anyone questioned me or challenged my ideas, I got defensive. I desired control because it made me feel safe. These were all protection mechanisms that made others perceive me as out of integrity – untrusting, untrustworthy, and close-minded. Most of the time, my intentions were good and my heart was pure, but my tone and approach was fear-filled and fear inducing. This is why I keep coming back to relaxed as an indicator of integrity.

Relaxed indicates that consciously and subconsciously our insides match our outsides. This is a tall order because most of us are walking around with very little or no self-awareness. According to organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich, 95% of us think we are self-aware, but in reality only 12-15% of people are truly self-aware.

I also came back to relaxed because the number one thing people tell me they are looking for is PEACE and this definition of integrity gets us very close to that: the state of being whole and undivided. Doesn’t that sound good? No more masks? No more covering up? No more striving?

So how do we get there? First, we have to reconnect with ourselves. Make time to become aware of, know and understand our inner world – our thoughts and feelings. That takes spending time in silence and solitude, without distraction. I’d be happy to share some exercises and questions that can make this a more structured and guided process if it’s something you feel uncomfortable just doing. That’s how I had to start! This helps us understand what’s happening inside.

Next, we have to reflect and evaluate how we are interacting with the people and the world around us. Making time to reflect each day on what happened, why it happened the way helps us start to become aware of our own patterns and behaviors. What our outsides are saying to the world. When you’re ready, another great exercise is to gather feedback from loving, trusted people about what they see and feel when interacting with you. All of us need this outside perspective because we simply can’t know how we impact others. Our intentions and actions are almost never perfectly aligned.

Investing this time to match our insides and outsides takes work and energy, but the result is integrity. Our inner peace will grow and our relationships will flourish. Our success will grow and our leadership abilities will elevate.

The ultimate test of knowing whether or not you are in your integrity: you are unoffendable – you no longer blame or complain…in any circumstance. You take radical responsibility for your choices, your life and your leadership. Even when things go wrong that are outside of your control or someone does something to hurt you, you take full ownership of what happened and what to do next. This is a freeing, peaceful, powerful place to be that will feel relaxed and real to others and allow you to reach your full potential. Now it’s time to take a step – what will you do to improve your ability to act with integrity?

Written by Lindsay Leahy, Dream Builder with The Restoration Project. Get in touch:

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