The book titled “Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality” by Dr. Henry Cloud, shed a whole new light on the subject of integrity for me. My original understanding of integrity was to do the right thing even when no one is watching, but this book challenged my definition and the applications to my own personal life and work experience. By understanding integrity as the courage to meet the demands of reality, I will be able to focus on improving my best traits and become a great leader. Cloud explains in his book how six essential qualities determine your success in business: establishing trust, being oriented toward truth, getting results, embracing the negative, being oriented toward increase, and being oriented toward transcendence. I will give my personal educated reaction to each one of these qualities. One of the most important ideas Cloud starts mentioning in his book, is that of the “wake”, defined as the result we leave behind (pg. 17).
I agree with Cloud that there are two sides to the wake, the task and the relationship side. I was especially moved by reading that the two sides of the wake must be equally important and contributed to. Unfortunately, there have been many times in my life when I have either focused on the task more, or the relationship side of the wake I was leaving behind. Looking back, I now realize why I have not been reached by people from previous jobs, where being the top performer was my priority. But I also understand now, that it was because of the great wake I left behind, that many of my previous colleagues still show appreciation, respect, and adoration for me, even though I was a better performer than them. It is a great feeling to be able to motivate people and bring out the best in them for many years to come. After reading this book, I now understand how to use the “wake” tool to make me a better person and a better leader in my personal life but also my career.
On page 24, Cloud gives his definition of character as “the ability to meet the demands of reality” which shook my perception that character couldn’t change. Cloud was very successful in making me see how the demands of reality determine the requirements of the design, and that character is changeable. From now on, I will not only try to improve my own character, but I will also push people around me to be the best character they can be. It has not been easy to meet the demand of my reality, such as being a single mother, being a great fulltime graduate student, being a good fulltime employee showing high performance results while building long lasting relationships with colleagues and customers, being a good daughter, sister, partner, a healthy and beautiful woman etc. I now truly understand why several top performers in my company have been let go over the years because of the fact that their character did not meet the demands of the reality within the company, the employees and the customer base we are trying to provide excellent products and services to. I especially loved it when Cloud mentioned that “people grow and people change when the right experiences are brought to the person, and they have the right response in using those experiences” (pg. 27).
One of the most important aspects of establishing trust, according to Cloud is “true listening and understanding, which occurs only when the other person understands that you understand” (pg. 60). This idea opened my eyes wide and made me understand how I must become better at showing to the people around me that not only I listen to when they have to say, but I truly understand them and their situation. Since reading this part of the book I have tried really hard every day at work to show empathy and connect with my coworkers and not just my customers, winning their hearts by showing that I genuinely care for their success as much as mine. The other two ways of establishing trust according to Cloud are through extending favors and through vulnerability. I could not agree more with the author in that a good leader cannot just set the demand, he or she must do anything to help the people meet that demand. I have seen this concept with my General Manager being a part of the team, working as hard as we do toward the same goal, for our store to be as successful as we are.
Throughout my life I have been able to establish trust in my personal relationships, such as with my son, by extending favors and helping people not only understand the demands but also accomplishing them. Being vulnerable is another very important part to building trust, as mentioned by Cloud on page 92. Great leaders must be “strong enough to depend on, but vulnerable enough to identify with”. This is a whole new concept for me, because I have always thought that not showing your weaknesses made you a good role model. I will definitely let my guard down now and accept my imperfections and admit to being a work in progress myself. The second important quality to be a successful leader according to Cloud is to be oriented toward the truth by being in touch with reality.
On page 104 Cloud mentions how “the consequences of deceit are usually greater than the ones of the truth”. I could not agree more with this concept, especially because I was cheated on from my husband and was really hard for me to find out that what I thought was true, it had not been true all along. Being oriented toward the truth builds trustworthy relationships forever in every aspect of life. A new concept for me that I will incorporate in my life from now on, is the concept that Cloud mentions on page 117 that “you will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses”. Even though it does sound hard to do, I am determined to put it to practice in my own life with all my relationships.
The third quality important to success mentioned by the author is that of getting results. Cloud says that one of the most important aspects of character that leads to success is “the ability to keep going when we hit an obstacle, believe that there is a way to get it done, and keep going until we find it”. I have had to learn this lesson personally in a hard way, since I have hit rock bottom many times, and have had to get up and fight and move on, and end up stronger than before. The fourth quality to a successful leader mentioned in Cloud’s book is the ability to embrace the negative. I could not agree more with Cloud in when he says that “the ones who succeed in life are the ones who realize that life is largely about solving problems”. I have had to deal with this concept myself many times in my life, and every time I have decided to take the problems head on instead of ignoring them, I have grown as a character myself while building stronger relationships.
I have also had to work with several managers who avoided dealing with problems, which contradicts the idea Cloud points out on page 179 that “the leaders who are respected are the ones who can be depended on to deal with things directly and competently”. This concept reiterates my belief to why employees did not respect those managers I mentioned above. Reading from Cloud that “if they have to have others like them, or not be upset with them, then solving problems becomes virtually impossible” on page 184, convinces me even more that solving problems as they come, no matter how big or small they are, will make me a better leader and role model for everyone around me.
I am so proud to say that I work with great leaders who do exactly what Cloud mentions in his book “it’s not useful to beat other people up when they make mistakes…to the contrary that’s the time to coach, encourage them, and help then regain their confidence” (pg. 190). I am learning from the best, hands on, every day at work, and I strongly believe that because I am using the same concept in my relationships, I will soon become a great leader as well.
The last two character dimensions important to success according to Cloud are: oriented toward increase and oriented toward transcendence. The idea presented in this book that managers are good maintainers, while leaders are good growers, makes me realize why I have taken so much pride and joy in helping coworkers and friends grow in the last few years, because I am working on growing myself and becoming a great leader (pg. 207). This also touches the concept of being transcendent in order to be successful, especially when Cloud mentions that “it truly is more blessed to give than to receive” (pg. 253). A fairly new concept for me though, that I truly enjoyed learning about is that ‘the greatest people are the ones who have not sought greatness, but served greatly the causes, values, and missions that were much bigger than them…and by joining and serving those, we see greatness emerge” (pg. 243). From my personal life I have observed how not being transcendent can hold someone from being a good leader, such as those people who believe they are the center of the Universe.
This book was a great eye opener for me personally and made me question many of my traits and experiences. I now can connect the six character dimensions together within myself and using my best traits to become even better. The most important conclusion I arrived at after reading “Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality” by Dr. Henry Cloud, is that to become a successful leader in life I must understand why I might have some “gaps” to work on, accept myself and realize that there is nothing “wrong” with having “gaps”, and know what to do next to resolve them (pg. 265). I will for sure share this knowledge with as many people around me as I can, so that I can help them grow together with me.