There’s a leadership crisis occurring in our world today. All you have to do is turn on the evening news or read the media headlines to see it. From Hollywood, CA to Washington, DC, Wall Street to Main Street, Cultural Organizations to Religious Institutions, daily we learn about lapses in good judgment, corruption, and disregard for human dignity. These ignominies have a cost. A recent survey by the World Economic Forum found that 86% of respondents believe we are suffering a global leadership crisis. Many have lost trust and confidence in our leaders and question the intentions of those in positions of power.
The world is hungry for leaders who have an unwavering moral compass. Integrity is a highly valued quality in a leader because it creates trust. Robert Half Management Resources, a leading provider of senior-level staffing, surveyed more than 1,000 office employees and 2,200 chief financial officers who rated integrity as the most essential leadership trait.
High-integrity leaders are consistent in behavior, message, and commitment to their values. They are respected and powerful, not because of their position or political prowess, but because they have earned respect and power by always being truthful and clear about their intentions. These leaders do not modify their message to appease customers, take credit for ideas to enhance their image, or take shortcuts to win approval from key stakeholders. They “walk the talk” in good times and bad and attract loyal, high-performing followers.
What is at stake when a leader isn’t “walking the talk”? Trust is eroded. Trust is foundational to effective teamwork because when trust exists, team members have confidence in a leader’s vision and decisions, even when those decisions are not easy. Culture is compromised. Leaders create the atmosphere and conditions for success. If a leader is not consistently modeling high-integrity leadership an unhealthy culture exists increasing the likelihood of unethical behavior. Teamwork is stymied. Leaders who are looking out for their own best interests discourage collaboration and working together to achieve common goals.
High-integrity leadership requires these five qualities:
- Consistently adhering to and expressing a set of values and principles. This enables leaders to effectively communicate core values and be an effective role model for the organization Trust and respect will inherently be built because values and principles are being unfailingly put into practice.
- Being courageous. Leaders who are willing to take a tough stand when necessary, bring up the “undiscussables” (i.e. the “elephant in the room”) and openly and effectively deal with conflict are modeling the importance of embracing the natural tensions that occur in every organization. Leaders who step into their truth and speak up about important but difficult issues with honesty and respect create breakthrough results.
- Owning mistakes. Leaders who admit they made a mistake – and do so quickly – demonstrate both courage and vulnerability. This quality creates safety for others in the organization “own up” to versus “cover up” their missteps.
- Demonstrating authenticity. In the words of Dr. Lance Secretan, one of the world’s foremost leadership scholars, “Authenticity is the alignment of the head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, saying, feeling and doing the same thing – consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.” When you have this kind of alignment, your inner and outer lives are congruent. Your behavior matches your values and others trust that you can be counted on to keep your word and remain true to your purpose.
- Doing the right thing at the right time, regardless of the circumstances. Period.
There are many qualities you can lack as a leader and still be successful over time. Integrity is not one of them. Establish a set of core values and principles, communicate them broadly and regularly, integrate them into all business practices, make it clear that deviation from them will not be tolerated, and live by them.
Grow with purpose.