Commentary: Leading with Integrity

“Integrity is knowing what we’re up to in the world and being in complete devotion to it. This purpose can change and often does. It doesn’t have to be something great or grandiose, but it must be clear and compelling to leaders—clear enough for them to know at any moment whether they are on purpose and compelling enough that they passionately align their energy to fulfill it.”

Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership


Bat Sheva Miller, Associate Head of School, Oakland Hebrew Day School:

In addition to integrity being an essential aspect of leadership, it is also an integral ingredient in the making of healthy relationships. One’s integrity fosters trust in others, providing the crucial components for a leadership that is healthy, stable and confident. Knowing on what principles one stands cultivates a stronger understanding of our cultural, social and physical environment, at a time when change has become an accepted norm, and disruption has become a goal.

Integrity is being transparent about our guiding values, about the beliefs we cultivate, about the truths we consider absolute; it is living by them in spite of laws that might subjugate us, dogmas that might intimidate us or social norms that might be imposed upon us. Integrity goes beyond the transient characteristic of ever-shifting goals and purposes. The difference between successfully attaining a goal or failing to reach one should never impact one’s sense of wholeness, of uprightness or of belief in particular principles.

In the daily recitation of the Sh’ma, one is reminded to love the Lord, your God “בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך” with everything we have, heart, soul and body. In pursuit of a conscious leadership, integrity is a universal prerequisite.

Daniel Weiss, Head of School, Bornblum Jewish Community School, Memphis:

According to the dictionary, integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” One with integrity is a mentsch, an upstanding member of society. We are taught in Pirket Avot (2:5), במקום שאין אנשים השתדל להיות איש, In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person.

Three phrases have impacted my life as a parent and as an educator. Each is equally important for our students, our staff and our parents. “Make good choices” are the words of a parent in my school to their child each morning when they drop their child off at school. “Do the right thing” is the mantra of a colleague of mine, who would remind our students throughout the course of the day that everything that they do is a choice.

After an inspirational quote each morning, our announcements conclude with the words, “Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.” Integrity is how we build character values. It is how we create mentsches. When we make good choices, by doing the right things, we act human, full of integrity to make each day a great day.

Miriam Kopelow, Director of General Studies, Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School, Skokie, Illinois:

What happens when my version of integrity is in direct conflict with yours? What do we do when I’m in “complete devotion” to one approach and you’re committed to its opposite? Maybe I believe in shared decision-making and you value accountability in a clear chain of command. Or perhaps you feel open conversations are the best way to ensure everyone has a chance to speak and I feel that prescribed discussion formats, such a protocols, are the only way to truly share the mic.

Who “wins”? The person with the highest rank? In spaces as dynamic as school buildings, how do we simultaneously foster a culture of individual integrity and shared identity? Where do we embrace diversity, and when is it too far of a deviation from our mission and values as a school?

As Jewish people, we are no strangers to asking questions and being in constant search of our answers. These are the questions I struggle with in this work, both as a leader and a colleague. Where do I stand firm in my version of integrity—knowing what I’m up to in the world and being in complete devotion to it—and where do I bend to the needs of my school and the styles of my colleagues? Perhaps the answer lies in being in complete devotion to asking the question, not just living my answer.

Deepening Talent