Integrity: Integral to “Good” Leadership

Integrity. Very little question that it is an important leadership quality. Here’s what Peter Drucker had to say about it: “Integrity may be difficult to define, but what constitutes lack of integrity is of such seriousness as to disqualify a person for a managerial position…management should not appoint a person who considers intelligence more important than integrity.”

(Before I continue, I must admit that writing this blog reminds me that I, too, must look in the mirror and ask myself, To what extent do I demonstrate integrity? I do this with every blog I write, but this one makes me even more introspective. With that in mind, I proceed.)
Some definitions of integrity:

1. Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; incorruptibility.

2. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. It’s a state of mind and the reflection of who you really are.

3. Expressing authenticity, genuineness.
According to author C.S. Lewis, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. Integrity is a foundational moral virtue, and the bedrock upon which good character is built.”

The word “Integral” is related to integrity and originates from the root word integritas. Integral means “completeness, essential, basic.” Thus, my title implies that Integrity is absolutely necessary or integral to “good leadership.” Joanne Ciulla stated that “ethical leadership is good leadership.” That’s the kind of leadership I’m talking about.
As clear as I can be about the essential need for ‘good’ leaders to have integrity, the truth of the matter is that its also very difficult to possess and maintain. And, there are various reasons for this, a few of which I share below.

The first of these reasons is our human condition. Human nature is such that we continuously struggle with integrity. Generally, we know we want to do the right thing, but we often don’t. The Apostle Paul expressed this reality when he wrote, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” If Paul confessed he experienced this conundrum, then you know we do as well.

Adding to the effects of our human condition are the day-to-day circumstances that challenge our integrity. A few of these are:

1. Competition–you sacrifice integrity to “get ahead,” to be seen as better than someone else, to insure we meet the bottom line of our organization.

2. Conflicts of Interest–you get caught in a web of having to decide what to do when pressured by various stakeholders who all have a different stake in the issue.

3. The Legal vs the Ethical Dilemma–here you must make the choice of agreeing to do something that technically may be legal but is far from ethical.

4. Social Media–on-line social platforms may make it more likely that you express attitudes, perspectives, and even behavior that you would not if in a face-to-face situation. It may make it too easy to lose one’s integrity, perhaps.
Further, the tendency to Rationalize bad behavior corrupts our integrity. It’s a virus that can infect all of us and allows us to escape the reality of what we’ve really done.
All of this said, we can work at building our “Integrity Quotient,” as challenging as that can often be. Consider the following:

1. Define your values. Those around you and with whom you work need to have the answer to one big question, “Who are you?,” with respect to your values. And you can’t have the answer to that question until you determine what are your values. Identify them, claim them, and live by them–that is the litmus test of integrity.

2. Take responsibility for your actions. Don’t blame others for your shortcomings. Own them, as well.

3. Apologize. When you make a mistake that may comprise your integrity, then tell those affected you are genuinely sorry. You fell short–admit it. Then, work to make sure you don’t make that same mistake again. LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES!

4. Keep your promises. Importantly, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Sounds simple, but it’s easy to fall into that trap. It’s okay to say, “No. I can’t do that.”

5. Be courageous. Do this by strengthening your self-confidence and self-esteem. Stand up and be counted. Often, it takes courage to keep your integrity.

6. Build a culture of integrity. No matter how extensive your “sphere of influence” may be, keep yourself and others within that sphere accountable for the standards of integrity you hope to achieve.

Finally, be humble. Don’t “lord” your integrity over others. Self-righteousness is not a substitute for integrity.

I finish this blog by sharing a recent quote by Bill O’Rourke which was featured in the Frances Hesselbein Forum “Leadership Tip of the Day.”

“I personally believe that the foremost quality that distinguishes an enlightened leader from others is integrity.”
Thank you, Bill.
Jim Dittmar