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Volume 8 | Issue 1

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

Leadership and Integrity

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”   (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

Much has changed since Eisenhower marched first into war and then into the White House. Regardless, time has sustained the importance of integrity as the essential leadership trait.

This is a proven truth – ALL GREAT LEADERS HAVE INTEGRITY.

Integrity is defined as the quality of being honest and having unshakable moral principles. Integrity is situated at the intersection of consistent actions and strong values. In other words, it is a quality of people who do the right thing at all times, even when no one is looking, and especially when it is difficult to do so.

Integrity in leaders refers to being honest, trustworthy, and reliable. Leaders with integrity act in accordance with their words (i.e. they practice what they preach) and own up to their mistakes, as opposed to hiding them, or blaming someone else. They don’t make excuses.

Integrity is highlighted as the most important attribute in a leader and is ranked higher than other leadership qualities such as fairness, decisiveness, and stability. Among employees, 75% indicated integrity is the most important leadership attribute, while 46% of C Suite executives have that same views. (I will have more to say on this contrast in my next letter)

What happens when leaders demonstrate this character trait in their words and actions? They create credibility – with their peers, clients, investors, customers, and other stakeholders. That leader surrounds himself/herself with people who also exhibit this trait. The leader becomes the leadership and this builds trust. It infuses the organization, and it ultimately builds a brand that creates trust by those who do business with the organization. Integrity ultimately builds the brand. 

Trust and inspiration go hand in hand. It is the leader’s integrity that binds the loyalty of colleagues and employees, and inspires them to do better. It is the virtue most crucial at the helm of any organization, and unless it’s clearly visible at all levels, corporate values cannot be sustained and the culture of the organization will suffer.

Those leaders who forget, or simply ignore the importance of their words, make compromises that ultimately harm their company. It becomes easier to say false things or make promises they fail to keep.  This can quickly crush both morale and the company culture.

When one demonstrates integrity, it means that person is not afraid of inconvenient or uncomfortable truths. It allows you to see the world as it really is, rather than how you wish it could be.  It’s an ability that is present in the best of leaders. 

Their refusal to compromise, or to cheat, gives them the courage to do what is right and helps them avoid deluding both their stakeholders, and themselves. 

Receiving feedback is also important, since support, with criticism, is always helpful for growth. More importantly, it reinforces a commitment to success. A leader who reflects this overarching virtue depends on those around him to succeed, and feedback that is timely and truthful is crucial to the overall success of the organization. 

On a personal level, it lets leaders hold themselves accountable both to superiors as well as to their colleagues and staff. This honesty and openness helps them learn what they can do better and helps fix mistakes they might be unaware they had committed. On the organizational level, integrity allows them to lead their team towards the company’s vision and goals since their moral compass is leading them there.

While both employees and C Suite executives rate integrity as an essential leadership trait, a greater percentage of employees considered it the top quality in an executive. People want to work for those who are ethical. They know that when their leader acts with integrity, that leader is going to treat them right and do what’s best for their business or organization.

In fact, leaders with integrity actually strengthen their operations. Companies with strong, ethical management teams enhance their ability to attract investors, customers and talented professionals. Ethical behavior starts at the top and allows companies to create a culture that values integrity.

Practical ways leaders develop and display integrity

Here are five ways leaders can develop and display integrity:

  1. Be honest, and treat people well. Temper successes and be quick to praise others’ contributions.
  2. Hold themselves accountable both to their superiors and to their peers and staff. Treat everyone fairly, regardless of their standing in the organization.
  3. Conduct a self-audit. Think about others they admire and ask what makes them admirable? Which of their attributes do they want to emulate, and how successful are their efforts to do so?
  4. Determine how others view them. While it’s one thing to ponder how we think we’re perceived, it’s quite another to know for sure. Good leaders talk to their managers, employees, and network contacts outside of the company about what they do well and what they can do better.
  5. Be vulnerable with their staff. When they make a mistake, they say so and do all they can to fix it. Their employees are not expecting perfection, and they can alienate them when they fail to admit fault when things go wrong.

The “tone at the top” matters. This is never more obvious when integrity is absent at the top. When this virtue is absent, so is truth; and when both are absent, character is also absent.

Leaders must model and then actively and visibly reinforce integrity for everyone in their organization. This is true for both executive leaders and leaders at every level of their organization. Regardless of their job description or title, every leader must be responsible for modeling integrity.

However, since executive leaders are the most visible members of the organization, and since they have the potential to cause the most reputational damage, it is crucial for them to support compliance, accountability and ethical behavior.

Visit our website here to view our latest offer on ways to improve productivity. Have questions about what you’ve read? Contact us at 346-330-3239, or 832-452-8537.

Food for Thought: “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” (Samuel Johnson)

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