Is integrity a negotiable trait, or is it one of the cornerstones of good leadership?
I recently met with a client who I have known for some time in a different capacity. He is starting up his own business and it is a very exciting time for him. During our discussion, he made a point to me, that although is not new, in that moment meant so much to me. It felt good to be reminded about what credibility and success, as I measure it, is based on. His statement was that:
Without your integrity, you have nothing!
He is right. I take the view that how we get there is more important than the end result. By this I mean that when we focus on internal, innate and substantial inputs, we have control on the outcomes and results. Integrity is an input and an output. All of our behaviours, values, beliefs and other attributes contribute to the choices we make and demonstrate. These are the inputs. They must be consistent with what we say is important.
People will follow what you do much more readily than what you say.
For as long as I can remember, integrity has been a critical part of who I am and how I operate. My coaching and leadership development business, CoachStation, is built upon this attribute. I know that my client was referring to both points when he made the statement. But, on the drive home, my mind was really working through this point.
How different is that for any person who wishes to be seen as credible, real, authentic or effective? It’s an incredibly important and relevant attribute when influencing. To lead you must be influential. It doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. We all do. Integrity, however, provides a platform to always acknowledge the errors. It is linked strongly to self-esteem and self-acceptance, which are built upon how comfortable we are with our decisions and who we are.
Of all the facets of character, integrity might be the most critical.
It builds valuable trust between people – and yet (it may also be) the most difficult to define. I’ve heard many sage leaders say, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.” That definition relies too much on habit. I can be without integrity, yet trained to behave predictably in a certain manner. There are two critical components of integrity that go beyond just doing the right thing when no one is looking. The first is the adherence to a moral or ethical principle. This isn’t simple compliance to a rule; it implies a philosophical understanding of the reason it exists. The second is the pursuit of an undiminished state or condition. Everyone makes mistakes, so being a person of integrity does not mean you haven’t committed a moral or ethical violation, ever.
It means having the strength of character to learn from those ‘misbehaviors’ and seek continual self-improvement. (1)
It is also related to the point I have made previously, that the best leaders are those who genuinely care about those they influence and lead. To take a position of wanting to give, no matter whether your actions will be reciprocated, provides great esteem and satisfaction. It also leads to a degree of comfort and conviction in how you operate and behave that is difficult to describe, but has much power.
Integrity and honesty are intertwined. Not only, as it is often defined, as being honest with others. It is also about being honest with yourself. When coaching, I find this point to be one of the core deal-breakers for success.
Those who are prepared to see themselves for who they are and challenge themselves to develop, are regularly also people who are looked upon with respect and as having integrity.
The question of what the most important qualities are is something executive and career coaches have been asking for years. While it is assumed a good leader requires a selection of traits and attributes, a new survey has shed light on what single attribute employees value the most. The survey, from Robert Half examined the perceptions of two different groups – workers and CFOs – and while there were some major differences in their responses, interestingly there was one key similarity.
Both groups regarded integrity as the most important leadership attribute with 75 percent of workers believing so. (2)
There are many things you can lack and still steer clear of danger. Integrity isn’t one of them. Establish a set of sound ethics policies, integrate them into all business processes, communicate them broadly to all employees, and make clear that you will not tolerate any deviation from any of them. Then live by them. The key that too many managers miss is “then live by them.” (3)
You cannot set policies that employees need to live by, and not live by them yourself.
That will never work in the long run.
The thing about integrity is that it is often a key contributor to how people feel about you. These perceptions start with how you feel about yourself…as a leader, employee, person, parent or any other role you have in life. A lack of integrity can be obvious. Maybe it is difficult to describe, however integrity is a worthy point to reflect upon and consider where it sits within your life currently.
Don’t worry so much about your self-esteem. Worry more about your character. Integrity is its own reward.