From the Interview Room to the Board Room: The Importance of Having Integrity

Integrity is the foundation upon which strong leaders are able to find and retain followers. Without integrity, managers with leadership abilities create a company culture that lacks a core value system, which often spills onto the brand itself. Integrity can be developed, and developed it must be if leaders are to have a hand in truly supporting their company’s mission and building their team. It is also one of the top 10 trait employers value most! Stewart, Cooper & Coon trains and develops leaders for many organizations. They provide assessments and strategies to develop a strong leadership team.

What Integrity is Not

The old adage holds true that you cannot give what you do not have. You cannot lead with integrity if you do not personally possess or understand integrity. Integrity is a word that is often misused and woefully misunderstood. The confusion usually comes in when we use integrity to mean discipline. For instance, a common definition for integrity is to do what is right even when no one is looking. The truth is the willingness to do what is right is an act of discipline. Integrity is a much deeper issue.

What Integrity Is

To have integrity is a state of being. It is all of who you are. Yes, when you have integrity you will have the discipline to do what is right even when no one is looking; however, integrity is not just based on actions. Integrity is, first and foremost, the inner standard and values system from which your convictions, thoughts, feelings and actions flow. Second, that inner standard drives you to act. In short, it is the wholeness of your being.

How to Develop Integrity

In his book, Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, Dr. Henry Cloud identifies six leadership traits that are present in someone with integrity:

  1. He is able to maintain trust in relationships.
  2. He makes it a point to face reality and get rid of known blind spots.
  3. He produces consistent results that make him dependable.
  4. He embraces negative experiences. He does not hide from them.
  5. He consistently strives to grow and get better.
  6. He is rooted in transcendent values that are bigger than himself like faith, God, the company mission, family.

First, let it be said that you either have integrity or you do not. Integrity is not a trait that only manifests at home, then in business it’s every man for himself. When integrity is present, it remains. Integrity is not easy to develop. It takes an enormous amount personal strength. The courage to develop your integrity takes careful and frequent introspection and the kind of transparency that most people – including many leaders – are unwilling to provide.

It takes an honest assessment of your assets and liabilities and the painstaking scrutiny of your own intentions and motives. No easy task. Developing integrity is a constant exercise in personal growth and often the result of painful experiences.

integrity2The Value of Integrity for Leaders

When you are in a position of leadership, integrity makes it easier for you to acquire and retain the talent and support you need to grow your organization. Without integrity, you oppose your own efforts and stagger your own professional growth. The tricky thing about integrity is it is often developed (or undeveloped) by the seemingly insignificant decisions.

You can do the right thing and be honest and disciplined in the things you do as a matter of habit. However, if you do those things and you lack integrity, it can still contaminate your team’s image of you (integrity is an integral part of teamwork).

It will manifest as a nagging feeling that you cannot be trusted. “I don’t know what it is about that guy, but I’d watch him if I were you.” The beauty of this natural ability for humans to perceive guile in others is what keeps us alive. But it can also be what keeps you from soaring as a leader, as most people are wise enough not follow someone they do not trust.

So what can you do right now to begin developing integrity? Identify what it is you believe. If you do not have a structured moral code, you cannot live by one. Your moral code is that list of non-negotiables. Second, line up your thoughts, feelings, decisions and actions with that code. Third, keep at it. Sometimes it takes a while to get the hang of it.

“You do not wake up one morning a bad person. It happens by a thousand tiny surrenders of self-respect to self-interest.”
– Robert Brault, American writer

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