Leadership Integrity

By Deborah Garand and Judith E. Glaser | Leadership Excellence
Published January 2009

Let's now raise the bar.

Of the top 20 characteristics of admired leaders, integrity is selected first 90 percent of the time. Integrity means an uncompromising adherence to a code of values and ethics. Integrity asks you to reach higher. Integrity is about honor and about “doing good over feeling good.” Integrity speaks to our ethical fiber, and our sense of what is right for a company, society, and humanity—not just what is right for me, the individual.

Integrity challenges you to make sacrifices and to do the “right” thing when, in fact, it may stand in your way of greater wealth, jeopardize your status, or risk your career. Integrity requires humility. Humble leaders know that everyone has a different approach, value system, and reason for doing what they do. Integrity seeks to understand all perspectives, and weigh consequences before making a decision.

Companies succeed or fail based upon the integrity of its leaders and employees. Integrity is the basis for trust—the gauge through which we read and commit to action.

Hardwire Integrity into the Culture

You can hardwire integrity into the culture in three ways:

Conversations. Leaders must first have a conversation with themselves, asking themselves the hard questions of personal accountability, grounded in truthfulness to oneself and all others involved. Many executives become imbued with self-importance, narcissism, or over-evaluation of attributes or achievements. If we lead through our actions, our conversations must ensure that we “walk the talk.” We will then inspire others through our own example. We will care less about the preservation of self-image, impressive “bottom-lines,” pleasing the “street,” and looking good in the eyes of others.

If we believe that we “walk into our words,” what are those words? If you listed them today, would they reflect the highest tenets of leadership? There is power in leaders who adhere to their values. You feel that power in the conviction of their words and actions. They trust themselves. Through personal strength and courage, trust is grounded within the self-assured knowledge of their ability to adhere to their convictions. No one is given the right to impute this leader’s integrity.

Leaders also need to expand conversations across all boundaries and seek honest perspectives concerning how we live integrity through corporate responsibility, accountability, and leadership direction.

Transparency. Transparency—being free of all pretense and deceit—paves the way to open dialogue based upon trust in management and in the information. Good business is predicated on solid principles. Businesses are comprised of many interconnected departments, each dependent upon the flow, accuracy, and transparency of disseminated information. Transparency is essential when you are setting a new course or desiring to improve productivity and profitability. One decision made by “shaving truth” or blatant deceit begins small and then snowballs. As more decisions are made based on the dishonest approach, the snowball gains speed and mass until it becomes unmanageable and systems begin to fail. Transparency keeps us honest.

Candor. Candor means a disposition to open-mindedness—a freedom from bias, prejudice, and malice. Candor enables us to listen receptively to other perspectives while engaging in interactive dialogue. Dynamic leaders appreciate the contribution of others. They leave their egos behind, harnessing the power of being secure within themselves while promoting innovation, collaboration, and a heightened sense of “team.” Transparency affords the trust, and candor fosters openness.

By adhering to a personal code of honor, leaders can raise the bar for themselves and for others.

ACTION: Lead with integrity.

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