When I searched for the definition of integrity on Google, I saw this. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. I can list a dozen examples of leaders who lacked integrity. One of the biggest and most far-reaching examples is the leadership at Enron. After Enron fell apart, educational and leadership programs around the world starting teaching about integrity and ethics. I think it’s kind of sad that we need classes and programs to teach us about integrity and ethics, but I guess it’s better that we have some standardized training on this rather than assume that everyone simply has integrity.
The first step to purposely have integrity is to understand what integrity is. If you have never been taught to have integrity, if your parents or the people who raised you and the bosses you’ve had haven’t had integrity, then you learn to behave in a way without honesty or strong moral principles. That’s why I say it’s important to understand what integrity really is.
I once worked with a boss who had a different understanding of integrity than I did. The mismatch was so stark that I had a pre-ulcer and suffered physical pain. This might sound extreme to some of you, but if you’ve ever had such a mismatch in values and integrity, you know what I mean. What does integrity look like? It looks like doing the right thing even if it is hard. It looks like being honest in every dealing, even if it would be easier or more profitable to be dishonest. It looks like helping others who need or deserve help, even if others won’t help them.
It looks like making sure everyone is treated fairly, even if it would be so easy to cheat, especially if no one would know. It looks like giving up certain rewards and giving them to the rightful recipient, even if once again, no one would know. Do you see the common factor here? It is, even if. Even if it is easier, faster, would make you richer, you do the right thing, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. That is integrity. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it’s easy, but in the end, it should always be rewarding. As a leader, I challenge you to commit to a life of integrity at work, outside of work, everywhere. Make integrity a part of who you are.
Leaders are good at decision making. I’m not saying they always make the right decisions or the best decisions, but leaders make a lot of right and best decisions. I have plenty of stories about people I’ve worked with who haven’t been good at making decisions. I’ve seen how this has eroded their leadership abilities, as well as trust and respect from others. I remember a comment I got from a developer many years ago. I had recently assumed a management position over a group of developers and was intent on making serious progress with some of our products. The developer told me that the previous boss would change strategy and direction so frequently that no one on the team knew if they’d be working on the same project from day to day. It was beyond the point of frustration. The result was that the team really didn’t care about what they were working on anymore. How could you care if what you were working on could go away on a whim? This had horrible repercussions that reached past the developers and into our sales abilities and our customer satisfaction.
In another example, I witnessed a program that was put on hold while management took months to figure out what to do with the program. Week after week, the team wondered what was happening and began to question their time with the organization. The executive team had a lot to do. I understand that, but their indecisiveness impacted a lot of people, not to mention their families. There was a real cost to not making a decision. A cost that manifested in lower employee morale, increased hallway gossiping, and over time, employees who left the company because they couldn’t work in such an indecisive environment. Now I’m not naïve enough to think that leaders aren’t allowed to change their minds or take time to make decisions, but I’d like to talk about the leadership characteristic of being a good decision maker. This includes being accountable, which we’ve talked about. It also includes the ability to pivot with purpose, but not pivot so frequently that no one knows what’s going on. Some leaders make decisions based on their gut.
Others make decisions based on data. Some decisions take into consideration the impact on people. Other decisions are based on market opportunities and money. Many times leaders have to make very hard decisions with consequences that can have a painful impact on individuals, as is the case when you have to let someone go or big changes to a company such as pulling out of certain markets. The leader recognizes the responsibilities they have for others. They know their decisions could make or break careers and have a big impact on personal finances. If you always make the right decisions, this sounds exciting, but you won’t always make the right decisions.
As a leader, you are well prepared to make hard decisions. You do your homework. You ask the right questions. You surround yourself with the right advisors, and when the time is right, you make a decision and move forward to make it the right decision.