Leadership – Integrity

A key element of how we see Leaders – and how we select leadership candidates – is their  integrity.   But what does this mean ?

Integrity can be defined in two ways  :   as being honest and as having strong moral principles;  but also as being whole and undivided.

Both of these aspects are important in assessing leadership – particularly when we are trying to establish what makes a good leader.   Hitler and Stalin had many of the traits that are useful in leadership – intelligence, communication skills and a good understanding of human nature, but we do not hold them up as exemplars of good leaders.  Many politicians fail as leaders as well, and perhaps the common factor is a perceived or real lack of integrity.

Warren Buffett said about hiring leaders:

“…you look for three qualities.  Integrity, intelligence and energy.  If you don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”  

This captures the dilemma – capabilities and drive are essential qualities for a leader –  but if harnessed to the wrong purposes they can cause untold damage to their teams – other stakeholders and often, themselves.

As a leader, there are a number of areas we can reflect on.

  • Consistency.  Being whole and undivided can be thought of as having a single overarching set of values that are consistently applied no matter what the situation or the specific interaction.  This creates a sense of authenticity – that what is seen of us is the real deal – which enables trust.
  • Self-awareness.    Are we being truly honest with ourselves – about the motives for particular actions ?  Are these actions consistent with our “inner compass” – or are we reacting to a particular situation or set of emotions ?
  • How we handle conflicts of interest.  These can arise in many ways – what is important is to recognise them and to ensure that the factors influencing a decision are fully understood at a personal level.   How this is seen by others is also critical, particularly if they are looking for opportunities to find fault or bias the decision-making process.

As an exercise, ask yourself how you define integrity?   How does this impact the way you act as a leader – and the way you expect your team and colleagues to act with you?