When you look at leaders you admire, the singular trait that stands tall is integrity. Integrity, is the Latin word integritatem, meaning “soundness” or “wholeness.” A person with integrity, therefore, is solid and whole. They are not “flaky” or “double-faced” - what you see is what you get will with them. Integrity is one of the most respectable aspects of human behavior.
Warren Buffett once, said: “You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person - intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two. I tell them: Everyone here has the intelligence and energy; you wouldn’t be here otherwise. But the integrity is up to you. You weren’t born with it and you can’t learn it in school.” Each word rings true.
When you demonstrate integrity, you draw others to you because you are trustworthy and dependable. You are principled and can be counted on to behave honorably under any circumstance. In essence, it is when the inner world of your truth, beliefs, ethics, commitments, values, and desires, aligns with your actions and behavior in the outer world. Integrity is deep, and I would say, it involves living from the soul.
The leaders who live with integrity inspire followers by bringing all of who they are to their work, and the positive effects are felt by everyone around them. It is not surprising, that the leader’s integrity has a huge impact on an organization's culture.
As a leader, how do you demonstrate the values of integrity?
- Keeping your commitment
It is about doing what you say you will do. When you tell your coworkers that you will be there for an important meeting; you show up. When you promise a client for that report in a week’s time, you honor your commitment. Should you be unable to do so for any reason, be honest and let people know the truth. People are counting on you. Keeping promises helps in building trust, displaying reliability and deepening relationships.
- Be fair
The moment you choose to bend the rules to accommodate people, discriminate and ‘favour’; you will have an integrity outage. Uphold the same set of standards and expectations for every member of the team. Set clear goals, roles, responsibilities and expectations upfront, so that there are no surprises. A double standard is the fastest way to trust deterioration. Without trust, there is no leadership.
- Open and direct Communication
Communicate, communicate and communicate with directness and honesty. Lack of information gives fodder to assumptions that are, usually negative and can dampen the team’s motivation and productivity. Stalling or procrastinating using excuses to protect people, may misfire. People know when you are hiding things. If there is some information you are unable to share just yet, tell them what you can. Especially so, in the times of situations that have an impact on people’s means of livelihood e.g. mergers, reorganization or retrenchments. And, follow the rule: “tell the truth, point to hope.”
- Acknowledge your mistakes
It’s okay to own up to your mistakes. We all have our limitations and admission isn’t a sign of weakness, but strength. People don’t expect perfection because no one knows everything. Admitting a mistake helps both you and the team to learn and grow. It isolates the problem and allows you as a leader, to pool resources that complement so that you can set about resolving the issue at hand. This will make the team feel valued and make you look genuine and humane.
- Giving credit where it's due
Hoarding credit, or waiting until a job is completed, often results in reduced motivation and/or heightened resentment. As a leader, taking credit each time even if it’s rightful can isolate your team. Look for opportunities to publicly praise and thank your team or individuals for their hard work. Vital contributions at work can be rendered invisible when they are not acknowledged or the credit is wrongly allocated. Make it a habit to appreciate those who have played an important role in the victory of your team or project.
What can you, as a leader, do to ensure your moral compass stays northward?
It's easy to talk about integrity, but it's a lot harder to follow through. Self-awareness is a great way to keep the axis of integrity pointed in the right direction.
- Close critics: To gauge how you are operating in your world, build a small group of close critics. People who know you well and have your best interest at heart. People who are willing to be totally honest with you and you trust their feedback.
- Listen: If you can adopt active listening, you will discover that people are, continually giving you clues about how you are perceived and how you are impacting them. This will allow you to adjust and recalibrate your behavior, without the filter of pre-conceived beliefs and judgments.
It all starts with the leader because it is the leader who sets the tone of building integrity into the culture.
Nothing creates cynicism among a team faster than a leader who either violates or allows others to violate that trust. When integrity is lacking in leadership, organizations become political and slow-moving. Way too much time is wasted in second-guessing others, fearfulness and guarding one’s own interests.
With integrity as the cornerstone, a leader can achieve unimaginable victories, together.