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Don’t Toss The Opportunity To Lead With Integrity

It’s a given that business leaders are expected to have high integrity, but it’s an elusive trait in many. Here’s how to understand it, evaluate it (in yourself) and get it!

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Robert Denker, Ph.D.Robert Denker, Ph.D.

Sometimes, the most difficult aspect of integrity is consistently doing the things we have promised. We see this in all professions — across the board.

When business leaders are asked to describe key traits that correspond with the best managers and professionals they deal with, "high integrity" often tops the list. The irony though, is that many of these same leaders do not have a clear understanding of what it really means to “lead” with integrity.

Leadership integrity is not merely a moral trait but a dynamic process of making empathetic, responsible, and sound decisions — doing what is right and fair, following through with your commitments, and being trustworthy and honest. 

In short, integrity means doing the right thing, consistently. 

Sticking to a Pattern of Doing What’s Right  

Behaving with integrity is probably easiest in the presence of others. Knowing that others will observe and judge us often puts us on our best behavior.

Sometimes, in situations where no one is directly watching or where an action cannot easily be linked back to an individual, people are tempted to relax their standards and act in their own best interest rather than doing what is right or best.  

There’s a saying: “To really know someone, watch what they do, not what they say.”

It can be difficult to do the things we have promised. In modern, ever-changing work environments, at times it might be difficult to keep all of our commitments. But if we hold ourselves to high standards, it will be easier to be the type of person others can count on to deliver what we promised. Most importantly however, as effective leaders we cannot ignore unethical behavior.  Ignoring the unethical behavior of others is in itself unethical and that can lead to great harm for your company, yourself and all concerned. 

Audit Your Integrity & Examine Your Leadership Values

Just as organizations conduct systematic audits of their financials and other key processes, this is also the case for all leaders wishing to become more effective in their ability to lead with integrity. Without self-awareness, you cannot understand your strengths and weakness. It is self-awareness that allows a leader of all levels to know where they are and where they need to go.

To help keep you on the integrity track perform a self-audit every quarter on the 10 most important behaviors for acting with integrity. Use this simple scale from 1 (Low) to 5 (High) to rate yourself (and others):

Ask Yourself How Well do You Exhibit ……?

  • Ethical and honest behavior in my business dealings?
  • Ethical and honest behavior in my dealings with people?
  • Fairness in my expectations of others?
  • The correct behaviors in spite of the consequences that may happen to me?
  • Behavior that delivers what I have promised?

How Committed Are You to Fair and Consistent Treatment of Others That Includes:

  • Telling the truth
  • Following through on commitments
  • Not ignoring the wrong doing of others
  • Giving voice to values by not remaining silent

Selecting Leaders Who Have Integrity

Selecting leaders who demonstrate integrity is key to ensuring positive organizational outcomes.  Why so? Because integrity plays a significant role in the decision process used by associates/employees when deciding whom they will follow, which they will trust, to whom they will be loyal and committed, and ultimately for whom they will perform.

If you are selecting leaders where integrity is an important aspect of the role or if you have questions about the integrity of a candidate or someone on your team, the following selection questions will prove helpful:

  • Describe an ethical business dilemma that you have faced. What were the circumstances? What did you do? Why did you take this particular course of action?
  • Tell me about two situations in which you have seen others be unfair or dishonest. What happened? What would you have done differently? Why?
  •  Discuss a time when your integrity was challenged. How did you handle it?
  • What would you do or what have you done if/when someone asked you to do something unethical?
  • Have you ever experienced a loss for doing what is right?
  • How have you encouraged others to give voice to their values and not remain silent in the workplace?

Integrity: A Final Thought

Every day, in big ways and small ways, in visible or invisible situations, leaders have the opportunity to demonstrate a pattern of integrity and develop integrity in those they lead. Ask yourself, what will you do today to make progress here?

Robert Denker, PhD., MBA, is the Managing Principal of rd&, Chicago, Illinois. 

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