Some years ago I had to dismiss a team member who was great at his job and he and his wife had become good family friends. The reason was simple; he had made a fatal error of judgement and in doing so had, to the wider team, lost his integrity.
The label of integrity is hard to earn and yet it can be lost in a single action. I am not even sure it is something we consciously look for in someone but we notice when it is missing.
It is only after we have considered our own actions, evaluating how they align with our personal values, intentions, and deeds, that we are most likely to make a contribution of integrity to the world.
We are each responsible for our own integrity and the best leaders create cultures that nourish the integrity of others.
At its root of the word integrity we find; to “integer” and “integrate”, it speaks of unity and wholeness. We still think of the word in this original sense when we talk about “structural integrity,” the quality that enables a building to stand and that, when lost, lets a building collapse under its own weight.
As US Rabbi, Jonathon Omer-Man said, “Integrity is the ability to listen to the place inside oneself that doesn’t change, even though the life that carries it may change.”
Most of us evolve and develop throughout our journey as leaders. Our character and our integrity are remembered long after the glitter of the deals has faded.
Having integrity leads to the building of trust as we practice honest conversations with others. Integrity is a positive deposit in the bank of our connections.
Trust is an inherent part of integrity. People need to trust that leadership is serving everyone’s best interest and leadership needs to trust that team members are fulfilling their own responsibilities.
HOW DO WE IMPROVE LEADERSHIP INTEGRITY?
This possibly varies person to person but the following points, in my opinion, cover integrity within leadership.
- Respect - practice integrity with others by treating them with respect — even when they do not live up to your personal expectations of them. Recognise that your own standards can be subject to question. We get and give the best of each other in a culture that supports respect.
- Reliability - This is a more functional definition of integrity and a basic practise of a natural leader. It includes showing a little humility, keeping promises, meeting important deadlines and being there when people need you.
- Sharing - It’s important for leaders to clearly articulate their values and expectation of integrity. Share these values as a culture-building objective as to how we collectively define integrity.
- Responsibility - We need to acknowledge our responsibility for every one of our actions. It demonstrates that we are not using other people or external events as the cause of our problems. Wherever possible blame no one, accept the behaviour of others and the circumstances of an action as a given, and move forward.
- Considered Actions - This is the leader’s obligation to take the right action. It means embodying our integral principles and accepting the consequences for our actions.
- Thinking 360° - Think of the whole not just this one problem or decision, integrity can be viewed as a culture of wholeness, of being able to support all of the components for the long term good of all.
I have to admit that I have on numerous occasions made decisions or taken a course of action that would not withstand scrutiny of the points above. This is where self-awareness comes in and that question; “What is the correct course?” and remember life is a journey, good and bad……we can only do our best as we see it at the time!
Corporate responsibility and integrity make strange if not incompatible bed fellows and over the years have formed much discussion over the dinner table. In this article I am really only trying to examine questions of integrity in leadership.
Examining integrity at an intellectual level seems to raise more questions than answers. Mistakes will always made and occasionally poor judgement will be shown. Importantly we are now aware of some of the questions and it’s what we learn and how we adapt to our mistakes that we should now contemplate.