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Opinion: Integrity sets foundation for courageous leaders

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Editor’s note: This is the final column in a three-part series on character development in culture and the workplace.

Click here for Part I.

Click here for Part II.

Integrity. What a powerful word.

As a business owner, entrepreneur, doctor, politician, city official, teacher, parent and, most importantly, an individual, having integrity is a positive character trait where you are regarded as being honest and truthful in your actions. A person of integrity takes responsibility for their actions, puts other needs before their own and helps those in need. They choose honesty in all things while showing respect to everyone. They are humble, admit when they’re wrong and show kindness.

When I speak on character, I like to use examples of history and sports. History is important because you can learn from it and prepare for the future. I love sports because it’s raw, and you can learn much of a person’s core and character in the heat of the moment.

I admire people who show perseverance. It’s inspiring to hear stories of people who’ve endured several setbacks and disappointments but, no matter what, never gave up. Despite the difficulty, they held steadfast and overcame the obstacles.

I’m in awe of one particular man from our history books. He was born into poverty, and his mother died while he was young. He was engaged to be married and his sweetheart died, leaving him with a broken heart.

He lost his job and borrowed money from a friend before he went bankrupt and spent 17 years paying off his debt. He endured a nervous breakdown, putting in him in bed for six months. He sought to become speaker of the state legislature and was defeated; ran for Congress three times, losing twice. He applied for the job of land officer in his own state and was rejected. During a six-year span, he ran for the U.S. Senate twice, while seeking a vice-presidential nomination – and he lost in all three.

After all he endured, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States. Besides all of this, he lost two sons, ages 3 and 13, which crushed him emotionally. Lincoln suffered hardship, setbacks and the overwhelming strain of being president during the Civil War. I find his life story very inspirational.

There are other historical and modern examples of perseverance to name: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Sylvester Stallone-Yo Adrian, American Patriots at Valley Forge, Navy Seals Hell Week, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Bethany Hamilton and Michael Phelps. All of them could say that they never gave up.

The true meaning of courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to face your fear and bravely take that first step to defeat it. I’ve been writing about a commitment to character but to commit to something you have to predetermine in your heart and mind before you take any other action. It’s not always easy taking a stand, especially standing alone, but I can assure you that people will remember that you had the courage to do it.

The Rev. Billy Graham said, “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”

Makes me think of courageous people like Harriet Tubman, the men of the Alamo, Rosa Parks, Anne Frank, Winston Churchill, American military hitting the beaches of Normandy, Jesse Owens, Louie Zamperini and the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

I want to end on a personal note, especially with today’s culture. I don’t care about your skin color, race, religion, political party or income. If you have a heart to help others and believe these character traits of honor, respect and integrity are important to live by, I will stand with you and defend you.

On the other hand, if you want to hurt others, lack a moral compass and want to live in a society of anarchy, you can count on me to stand against that.

Our families, schools, communities and nation must boldly choose and unite to make character a priority in our lives. Don’t delay. Be a champion of character today.

Jeff Collins is a motivational speaker and founder of the Missouri Winter Games and co-founder of Champions Committed to Kids. He can be reached at 
jeff@mowintergames.org.

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