Friday, March 12, 2010

the art of integrity

Last week I quoted a former boss of mine who defined integrity by "doing what one says they will do." I could not agree more. The idea of integrity is at the heart of good leadership, for integrity is what creates trust, which is what creates followers, which is what creates a culture of developing leaders. I suppose when I use the phrase "the art of integrity" it implies that acting in an integral manner is something one is born with and not a learned behavior. However, let me interpret that phrase a bit differently. In refering to the ART of integrity, I am using that term in a way that describes what happens when one lives out their leadership through integrity. Let me explain further...

Integrity is a matter of choice. Leaders are faced with this choice multiple times every day. They are asked by those around them (colleagues, other leaders, followers) to do things...because that's what leaders do - they get things done...and they are able to get things done either from their influential power or their positional power. When people rely on their influential power, they may or may not be able to accomplish the task which they set off to do. When people rely on their positional power, there should be a greater likelihood that they will be able to do what they say they will do. Of course, there are many exceptions to both of these concepts, but for the most part, leaders have the ability to do what they say they will do because...well, because they are leaders and they can find a way to get things done. And when they do those things which they say they will get done, they perform in a manner that exhibits integrity, whish builds trust, which creates more followers, which creates a culture of developing other leaders. All well and good!

But what happens when leaders choose not to act in a manner that exhibits integrity?
  • Communication breaks down - it becomes difficult to talk about issues in a collaborative fashion because people don't know whether or not that person will follow through on what they said they would do.
  • Trust erodes - the less one is trusted, the less they have the ability to influence the organization for good. People begin talking about them behind their back, and less and less people engage them to help get things done.
  • Isolation occurs - the one who chooses not to exhibit integrity will begin to isolate himself or herself (because they will start avoiding people) and others will isolate themselves from the leader (because they have lost trust in that person).
  • Silos are built and/or reinforced - others who act in a similar manner will align themselves with the person who does not exhibit integrity - and others align themselves against that person. Communication breaks down, trust erodes, isolation occurs, and silos become ironclad.
  • Vision disappears - People who don't do what they say they will do must constantly find ways to protect themselves or cover their tracks. If time is spent in this manner, then time is being robbed from the mission and vision of the organization. Similarly, as others grow frustrated with the leader who lacks integrity, they too waste precious time and energy on the unimportant.

So what can be done? In an organziation where lack of integrity is isolated or the exception, these people need to be confronted, having their inconsistency and lack of integrity pointed out. In an open and trusting environment, this can happen from anyone in the organization, and changes can be made that have the possibility of bringing an organization not only to a functioning level but to a place where trust determines a culture of openness and greatness. If the organization is a place where lack of integrity is protected - and sometimes even rewarded - then it becomes more difficult to change the patterns and culture that creates silos and mistrust and poor communication. Perhaps the best one can do is to build a culture of integrity around themselves and those who work within their circle of influence - of demanding that everyone will do what they say they will do - and of rewarding those who truly live up to this commitment.

One final thought - when you are NOT able to do what you say you will do, then you openly acknowledge that in a timely manner and ask forgiveness. That too is acting in a manner that exhibits the art of integrity, which will allow you to create trust, which will create followers, which will create a culture of developing other leaders. And that can make all the difference in the world!


Melissa said...

A great book on this topic is “This Hungry Spirit,” by Clinton. C. Sidle.

His book helps us get under the surface of what should make us happy, to the core of what makes us tick-where our chance of actually being happy thrives. It’s about the deep joy of being effective for purposes you value, in situations that call forth your natural gifts. Blending personal stories with fresh perspectives on happiness, success, leadership, and spirituality, Sidle gives practical, hands-on tools that are full of integrity.

Don Christian said...

Thanks for the reference, Melissa - I will have to look it up. As we start our MBA program at Concordia, these are type of things we want our students to consider and put into practice - we like to use the phrase"bringing your whole self into your vocation."