Integrity Isn’t Flexible

I wrote about this a couple of years ago, but it seems like things are getting worse, not better. I’ve had a number of conversations with transitioning military veterans recently, and a common issue among them is adjusting to the perceived lack of integrity out in the “civilian world.” I’m not going to get all preachy and start throwing stones, but I can honestly state that I’ve run across more liars and cheaters outside the military than in.

Or maybe I’m just more sensitive to it because integrity-bashing is so pervasive in our media today. It seems like in business – and politics – we tend to throw the word ‘integrity’ around without giving much thought to what it means. Probably because it’s obvious to us if someone has it or not.

If you’re thinking, “Gosh, the blinding flash of the obvious is hurting my eyes,” take just a minute to write down the definition of integrity.

Not that easy, huh.

You see, integrity has as many definitions as leadership, and that’s as many as the number of people you ask. Integrity, like leadership, is in the eye of the beholder. To quote the late Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.” (He was, of course, referring to hard-core pornography, but whatever).

Among the many definitions of integrity found via the Oracle (aka the internet), honesty and strong moral and ethical principles are most often used. The problem is that morals – the principles of right and wrong – are individual and depend on a person’s belief system. And ethics – principles of good and bad conduct – depend of the group or culture they attempt to govern (i.e., bribery is not unethical in some parts of the world).

My point is that, as a leader, your integrity is judged by others, and they use their own definition. And what’s most important to one person isn’t necessarily that important to someone else. Honesty and truthfulness are obviously part of integrity, but so is following through on commitments and doing what you say. And uncompromised principles and consistency of actions and values. Having integrity is a character trait, and while you might think you have it, if it’s not demonstrated so people can see it – through your words, actions, decisions, methods and outcomes – you will be judged by others as not having it.

TRUST = INTEGRITY X COMPASSION X COMPETENCE

We know that trust is a product of integrity, compassion and competence; if any of the three are missing in our leadership, we won’t be trusted. We can be forgiven for occasionally being less compassionate than usual, and our infrequent screw-ups don’t necessarily make us incompetent. Integrity, however, is black and white, all or nothing, so having flexible integrity – like situational ethics – makes a person untrustworthy, and that’s a death knell for leaders.

2019. New year, new you. Integrity is demonstrable. If you think you have it, you need to be intentional about displaying it. Be intentional about what you say, how you behave, and how you make decisions. Make sure they reflect your values and beliefs.
And most importantly, recognize the impact of how you display your integrity has on others. They’ll know it when they see it.

It’s up to you, leaders.

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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)…

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Leadership 2019: A new year, let’s do it right!

2018 is in the can, finished. Stick a fork in it, it’s done.

A new day has dawned. 2019 is here, we’re over a week into it already. Soon, we’ll be discussing how fast January flew by, then Q1.

Have you made plans? Personal goals are great. Business objectives are super. But do you have specific plans to “do” leadership better in 2019? No? Why not?

Many of us create detailed plans for the new year. We spreadsheet various categories like personal, family, business, spiritual, health, etc. But we need to add one: Leadership. What can you do differently this year to improve your leadership impact? “Get better at it” sounds great but is woefully unactionable. (more…)

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The (not so) Great Communicator

In her book Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott writes, “The fundamental outcome of most communication is misunderstanding.” That’s never been truer than in today’s multi-generational, multi-cultural workplace. It’s a subject that is as old as the Tower of Babel itself, but a couple of recent miscommunications reminded me that I am not the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan was. (more…)

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You better develop your own leaders… because HR’s not going to do it.

I was reminded (again) this week that just because someone says it’s a priority doesn’t make it so. True across the board: politics, government, military, and from the C-suite on down.

This reminder was about leadership development, of course, because that’s what we do. Do you think development is important in your organization? One quick way to tell: who’s in charge of it?

I’m re-plowing old ground here, since we’ve been over this time and again, but you leaders are wasting time and money on developing your younger leaders if HR is in charge of your leadership development program(s).

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against HR. Some of my best friends are HR professionals. Okay, not really, but there are some that I like and respect a lot.

It’s not that HR doesn’t have a role in your development program(s); it’s just that leaders develop leaders, not personnel, EEO or benefits specialists. I do appreciate when a senior HR leader develops others in his/her organization – if they’re not, they’re doing the organization a disservice – but you can’t develop leaders by telling them what color(s) and letter(s) they are.

If the C-suite doesn’t actively participate in the development of leaders in their organization, don’t count on it happening at any level below that. There is no way to reinforce and hone leadership skills without someone above being part of the effort. How else can a developing leader (and aren’t we all one) take risks without fear of paying for failure with their jobs? How else can they try new skills and measure success without someone who is involved to help them gain clarity about what’s working and what’s not?

You can teach people about supervision (reinforcement) and management (process), but leadership (people) development is a hands-on process that HR can merely facilitate. Don’t try to pin accountability on HR, though; the results are up to you leaders.

We can all wear buttons that tell others that we’re green until we get red under stress. Knowing I’m a type C or A or an STBJ doesn’t actually help anyone know what motivates me or makes me feel appreciated. How will you know if your team feels like they’re doing worthy work if you don’t ask them? HR sure isn’t going to tell you.

This week’s reminder was a CEO lamenting about how his senior directors needed development. Turns out neither he – nor the CxO – was particularly engaged in the last effort. They left it to HR and never considered the coincidence that all the senior directors had the same problems.

Hint: if you have a problem with a direct report, it might be them. If you have the same problem with all your direct reports… well, if everything around you smells like shit, you should check your own shoe.

If you leave developing your team to someone else, you might as well expect them to teach your pig to sing while they’re at it. You won’t be happy with the results in either case.

How about you? Who’s leading your team’s leadership development efforts?

It’s up to you, leaders.

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The Real Meaning of Leadership

— It’s not a title, office or salary…

I originally told this story several years ago, more from a motivate-to-perform angle. As I’m sitting at my desk thinking, it actually distills leadership behavior into a single emotion. Be forewarned, this is a bit sappier than most of my writing (as I daintily blot a single tear)…

How does a leader make us feel? (more…)

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