How do you lead with integrity? How do you choose right versus wrong?
Sometimes it’s easy to tell the difference. Do you stop the child about to run into oncoming traffic, or is it not your problem because its not your child? Hopefully you realize that’s an easy one and you choose to save the child. [If it wasn’t an easy choice for you, consider talking to a therapist.]
Other times it’s no so clear. Do you allow production to continue on a product that is going to save the company’s bottom line even though it has a 2% failure rate that results in injury to the customer, or do put the entire company and its employees at financial risk by halting production while the glitch causing the failure is corrected? There’s a potential for negative outcomes whichever course you chose, creating a lot more gray in the decision-making process.
“With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.” Zig Ziglar
Shades of Gray
Decisions that are clear in the right versus wrong are generally easier to make. Decisions that are less clear, clouded with gray, are frequently seen as more difficult to make. Difficult decisions require us to think about the outcomes and consequences; the decision isn’t instinctive. Thinking requires us to understand our own values and motivations and make a judgement about the situation.
The reason this is difficult is because many of us can’t articulate our values and motivations. Even if we can come up with terms for our values and motivations, they can be challenging to describe.
Whether we are trustworthy and dependable, whether we are consistent and fair in our decision process, and whether our actions meet expectations, all combine into the nebulous term – integrity. Integrity is all about doing the right thing, both in and out of the spotlight.
“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
But as you know, determining what the right thing is, isn’t always easy. And what might be the right thing for one person might not be the same for someone else. That means that integrity doesn’t look exactly the same on everyone. So, how do you establish yourself as a person of integrity?
Integrity is one of those things that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. You develop integrity by honing the individual parts, so that when they come together it creates something powerful. Let’s take a quick peek at five of those key parts.
- Are you being genuine and providing truthful and complete information? Are you transparent about where you stand on issues?
- You must know what your core values are. What are those lines that can’t be crossed? What are the convictions that are most important to you? Be able to explain why. As the saying goes, if you don’t know what you stand for, you’ll fall for anything.
- Be consistent in your values, decision-making process and actions. The more people know what to expect from you, the more dependable you will be viewed. Do you walk your talk? Do you do what you say you will do? Do you model the expectations you put on others? Your words and actions must match. Dependability inspires trust.
- Do you let the other person speak? Do you use active listening strategies to focus on what they are saying and what it means to them, or do you just plan your rebuttal? Are you polite in how you interact with others? Courtesy and respect go hand in hand.
- Do you take responsibility for your decisions, actions and words? Can you admit when you are wrong? Can you give credit when it’s due, to whomever it is due to?
“It is true that integrity alone won’t make you a leader, but without integrity you will never be one.” Zig Ziglar
Having integrity doesn’t mean that everyone will agree with what you do, but it does mean that people can respect you for the decisions you make. Values are a key component in integrity, and not everyone has the same values. That is why there will always be differences of opinion and why two people with high levels of integrity can have opposing views of the same situation.
Putting It All Together
What forces motivate you, as a leader, to do the right thing? Are you a gatherer of all the facts from all sides so you can reflect honestly on the decision? Is there an internal compass and values that you follow? Do you use the same standards and expectations of trust for all your decisions? Is respect shown to everyone involved in the decision? Do you take ownership for your decisions, regardless of the outcome?
“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” Samuel Johnson
Some people say that integrity is something you either have or you don’t. I disagree. I believe that integrity is something we build on every day with every decision we make. We constantly have the opportunity to act with integrity, or not. It is a choice we make. Honesty is something we can choose to live by. We can choose to honor our values. Making ourselves trustworthy to others is a choice we make. Being respectful is something we choose to do or not do. Taking ownership for our actions is a choice. We can choose to lead with integrity. The choice is yours. What do you choose?
Revised June 2022. Originally published as “You Choose” under The OD Pro in February 2020.