The Most Important Question Every Leader Must Ask Themselves, “What Are My Standards of Integrity?”

Scott Agnew
5 min readJan 11, 2022

There is no shortcut to leadership in this day and age. Now, this may seem like bad news to most people when everyone is looking for a magic pill and a quick fix. So few people ever step into leadership in the first place, much less keep the position of leadership for the long term, because authentic leadership involves a level of integrity that most people are unwilling to play.

It is just too easy to project on to other people or blame outside circumstances such as the government or the economy of the day. But the reality is that leadership takes a level of self-reflection that illuminates the truth in which it resides at the core of the creator — you. When you have this level of radical honesty and self-reflection, the possibilities of excuse-making or outward projection disappear.

Who are you willing to be to produce extraordinary results in your life? The level of standards required for a leader is not only about the follow-through and delivering on your promises. Your success as a leader also involves your character and relationship with yourself. Because when you have standards that you live by, this is a beacon of integrity that shines above all lip service or fly-by-night, change in the moment direction.

When you develop your standards of integrity as a leader, there is a way you show up in the world which exudes confidence and charisma. When others fall back on the easy path of “fake it until you make it” and the mentality of “all show and no substance,” the world suffers.

Solid, authentic leadership is rare. The quick fix mentality has taken over our culture, so trustworthy standards are so hard to find. When you are committed to your standards, you have made an unconditional promise to yourself that you will withhold those standards regardless of how hard it gets or how easy it is to disguise or pretend, especially when no one is looking. And the word unconditional means that it is without condition, meaning that it is an unbreakable bond.

When you have these internal standards for your life and how you interact in business, unspoken confidence radiates from you. People will tell how you show up, and they will know immediately when you step into the room — that’s a genuine leader. It is more than just the way you speak; but it is in the silence you exude. When you align with your internal standards of integrity, you have room to pause and contemplate and evaluate before you speak or take action on your ideas. When you are constantly filtering through the levels of your integrity and standards, there is an inner dialogue that captures your attention before you ever engage with another. And that’s precisely what standards are. They are a quiet promise that you have made to yourself, and you are the only one who is the juror, judge, and creator all in one.

Most people are not up for playing this game because it’s just so easy to pretend or show off or change your beliefs, dependent on whether they fit the situation or not. But a long-term leader with internal standards will always rise above the pretend or temporary leader in any room or situation. The standards are the backbone of strength that builds the integrity of the leader’s character. This is where so many personal development fallacies fall short because you cannot prop something up from external appearance if you don’t have the pillar of honor.

Integrity is something that only you can build for yourself, and only you will be the one who is constantly checking yourself against it. This is also why so few people play this game. No one is watching you in your relationship with your integrity. It’s so easy to give lip service and say that you stand for something, but when the storm sets in, you can easily change your tune. The leaders who last and who rise to the top are the ones who have this internal checkpoint system where they’re constantly monitoring their decisions, their choices, and their beliefs against their internal standards of integrity. When a difficult decision comes up, they do not have to search outside of themselves. For the answer, they go inward and internally check the alignment with their standards.

Standards are the scaffolds that hold up the cathedral. While most people will only ever see the Sistine Chapel and its glorious painting, they never think about the complex structure that supported Michelangelo throughout that entire creation over the four years that he painted the ceiling. This is a lot like internal standards of integrity. They are your north compass, support, backbone, and inner strength. You and you alone are the only ones who can build it.

It is so easy to get distracted by flash and pizzazz and razzle-dazzle, but the long-term leaders are the ones who build their inner integrity, bright brick, and choice by choice. These leaders prevail because they do not bend easily when the tide changes, and their inner compass always points them to their true north, which lies inside themselves. They are aware when they ventured even slightly off course, for there is a constant checking in and monitoring against the alignment of their inner authenticity and strength.

And so when you talk about leadership, you have to ask yourself the most crucial question, “Who are you willing to be to become the leader you want to be?” That is not only the beginning question but the constant conversation with your inner self that you will be faced with as you emerge into more extensive power and more responsibility. The leader who is willing to have that constant reflection and inner check with their standards is the one who is going to prevail and stand out. The leader who aligns with their inner integrity will be the one to succeed in life and business and sleep the best at night. Because at the end of the day, you can’t fake it.