Integrity, Courage & Inigo Montoya

Kevin Ross is my best friend and my partner-in-crime at Triangle Performance (how cool is that?) We frequently have discussions on various leadership topics; sometimes over the phone, sometimes via text, sometimes in-person over a cigar (and perhaps a wee dram or two). Makes for an interesting dialog, to say the least.

Recently, we discussed Integrity. We have forever simplified “integrity” to mean “do what you say you’ll do.” And frankly, for a generalized foundational definition, that works well. For more sophisticated, nuanced conversations… well, it sucks.

In looking at leadership from an application standpoint – something we absolutely strive for here – integrity shows up as a factor in so many things. As much as I love simplicity, some things are necessarily complicated. Dammit. I’m none too happy about that, but reality is what it is. You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.

So, we’re digging deeper into the reality of integrity. And we realized that integrity can’t be simply telling the truth. “Whaaat??” you say? Let me explain… (finally get to use my Princess Bride reference…)

You see, there’s more to integrity than simple honesty.

So, time for a new definition. Integrity, it seems to me, is simply demonstrable moral courage. I’m still keeping it simple, but for leaders, it involves more than simple honesty. It includes honesty to self—the courage of your convictions. I’ve used courage now twice in describing integrity, so you word-counters must know it’s important. It is. Our folks want to see us leading… from the front… even when it hurts.

The hurting that you feel? It’s just demonstrable courage bursting through. And no worries, it only hurts the first time or two; after that, you get used to it. Like scotch, it’s an acquired taste.

Soon, we’ll do an entire newsletter devoted to courage (it’ll hurt a bit, trust me). Until then, if you’re trying to figure out how you can demonstrate moral courage today (remember, we’re all about applying things, not just theory):

Be transparent. This means, of course, being honest. It also means providing insight into the sausage-making we call decisions, and helping people understand why we do what we do. The “why” is the singular most important piece of delegation, empowerment and change. It’s only right that it be a cornerstone in our newfound courageous behavior.

Be accountable. When you screw up (note the “when,” not “if”), apologize, sincerely and without qualification. Show remorse and commit to do better. Then shut up and move on. Take complete ownership of all you do, good and bad. Take your share of ownership of more corporate decisions, even (especially?!) if you disagree with them.

Be responsible for results. Take inputs, listen to them closely, and change course if that’s the right thing to do. Don’t stay hooked to a course that was wrong from the beginning. However, If your first decision – even with your new knowledge – is still correct, own that as well. Tell them you’ve considered their inputs, but for whatever reason (insert here), you’ve decided to continue that course. Your job is to listen to inputs, consider available options, and discern among options. Own it, do it, make sure others see it.

Integrity is an important leadership competence (I know… “D’oh!”), but learning how to demonstrate that competence is what matters. People have to actually see us doing what they need and expect—it’s not enough for you to just know it.

Here endeth the lesson (another great movie line)…