This is a reprint of a popular post originally authored in 2009.

I don’t know about you, but reading and hearing about leaders who have either lost or never had integrity has become all too common these days. It makes us believe that there are no leaders with integrity.

As someone who tries to view the glass as half full, I like to think that the media has created this perception that our business leaders of today are void of integrity, morals, and ethics. Not only do I think this to be the case, but I know it. Everyday I work with executives and business owners who have strong values and integrity. Yet, the stories that our media chooses to promote never promote the leaders who live and breathe integrity.

Integrity is defined by Webster’s as a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values (INCORRUPTIBILITY,) an unimpaired condition (SOUNDNESS,) and the quality or state of being complete or undivided (COMPLETENESS.) Types: integrity of character, professional integrity. Synonyms: Honesty & Unity.

Or as Aristotle said: “Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way

It is the word “constantly” in this quote and “an unimpaired condition” from Webster’s definition that makes integrity hard. We all have values that we believe are important in our life yet outside pressures and circumstances may lead us to stray from these values because of our own self interest. It is so much easier during difficult times to think of a decision in the terms of “what’s in it for me” versus “what’s best for the team or the company”.

One of the keys to maintaining integrity is the ability to act not in one’s own interest but in the interest of others. A great example during these difficult times are the many leaders I work with who have taken significant pay cuts over and above the cuts made to the employees at large. They continue to follow their values in spite of the negative impact it has on them financially. There are others who have deliberately not poached their competitors’ star performers, yet instead will wait for those performers to reach out to them if and when the time is right for them.

There are countless examples of leadership integrity that I could share with you and very few instances of leaders who either never had integrity or chose not to develop integrity. Integrity is not something you are born with yet something you learn and strengthen over time. It is a conscious choice you make and you have total control over. No one can make you have or not have integrity.

Leaders without strong values and constant adherence to these values fail to recognize the message they are sending to their employees. “When things get tough, our values are up for sale” Those leaders who have the ability to stay the “values” course will reap benefits of employees who are motivated and loyal to their company. These employees will mimic the behaviors of integrity that they see modeled by their leader. They will clearly understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior within their team and their company. Integrity like the internet can have a viral positive effect and the lack of integrity can quickly create negative behavior in an organization leading to decrease performance and ultimately decreased profits.

Here are some questions you may want to ponder to determine your level of integrity and commitment to integrity:

    • How would your employees rate your level of integrity on scale of 1-10?
    • How do you react to lapses in integrity by another person?
    • What positive behavior did you model recently that was mimicked later by an employee?
    • What one behavior do you display on a consistent basis that is aligned with company values?
    • What key behaviors other than the one above, are necessary for you to be aligned with company values?
    • Describe a recent behavior you displayed that was not aligned with your companies values
    • What words or actions from employees will let you know that your employees trust you and your leadership?
    • How are you practicing the behaviors you want your employees to mimic?
    • How would your employees rate their trust in you on a scale of 1-10? How confident are you in this rating?
    • What one behavior can you display more of to increase your employees trust in you by 1 point on a 1-10 scale?

Images Credit: The Stock Exchange ( User: ilco