One of my favorite bloggers, Mary Jo Asmus, wrote an article recently entitled “Staying in Integrity.” She correctly pointed out that integrity is hard to define. I’ve written about integrity previously in my articles entitled “Leadership Credibility,” and “Trust.” I see a lot of folks confusing integrity with honesty. Honesty is necessary for integrity, but it’s not enough.
When people look at us to determine if we have integrity, the key thing they are looking for is an alignment of our values with theirs. Do we speak and act in ways consistent with the things they value? Even if we have impeccable honesty and do what we say we will do, if the things we say and do are not things that our followers value and care about, then we have not passed the integrity test in their eyes.
So to have integrity, the first and most important thing you need to do as a leader is to shut up! It is impossible to listen if you are doing all the talking, and you need to listen to your followers if you want to have any chance of discerning what they really value. When your followers feel safe enough with you to share the things they really value, engage them in dialogue. Ask questions to make sure you really understand not just what they care about, but also why they care about it.
Next, you are going to need to speak – about yourself. Your followers need to know who you are, what you value, and why you value it, so please share these things. Be transparent, clear, and consistent as you develop for your followers the story of you. They need this story to make sense of who you are and why you do the things you do; without it you are simply a black box. You need to come to grips with the fact that your folks are going to talk about you, so give them something to talk about.
Now you are ready to begin speaking and acting consistent with what we say we will do. Remember, you can’t credit yourself with integrity. Only your followers can credit you with integrity, so you better have a credible system for keeping your finger on the pulse of what they are thinking.
Let me suggest the most credible system – relationship. Form real relationships with your direct reports. Teach, train, and coach them to do the same with their direct reports and make quality relationships a formal part of your accountability, reward, and promotion systems. The only way to make integrity anything more than lofty rhetoric is to make it a formal part of your operating system.
Sound like touchy-feely crap to you? Well remember this – if you fail the integrity test your people won’t trust you. If your people don’t trust you, those that can’t find another job will never realize peak performance. Your customers won’t be impressed by the poor service and substandard products, so prepare for the pain of trying to maintain your bottom line with an evaporating top line.
Any leader that is serious about results is serious about integrity.
What do you think? Have you worked with people that were honest but lacked integrity as I’ve described it here? Does your leader’s integrity affect you or is my head in the clouds?