Snap quiz. Define “integrity”.
Don’t Google it. Don’t head for the on-line version of “Webster’s Dictionary.” And no matter what don’t try to guess if you’re not sure. Odds are you’ll verbally stumble about to the point of sounding more than a little foolish.
You cannot be a leader in any fashion, in any circumstance, in any reality unless you have integrity.
Which is why the five habits every leader with integrity possesses are easy to recognize, and in many cases it’s intertwined in their DNA. To be certain, they can be improved upon. There is never a time when an individual dedicated to their craft isn’t seeking to be better at all times, learning as they go and taking successes and failures and educational necessities.
But these are the five things to look for in every leader that will leave no doubt they carry integrity with them every step of the way.
And if you take these five habits in this order, you’ll recognize a natural “cascading effect” that one has on the next, and the next one, and so on. They all work perfectly in concert with one another and lean on each other for strength and character.
Let’s begin with the easiest habit for leaders. A sense of morality is paramount because everything else is affected by this. The simple knowledge of the difference between right and wrong. The ability in being able to project to others what is good and what is bad behavior.
There are no “half-truths” for honest and committed leaders. There is only right and wrong and the ability to not only define the difference between the two, but the ability to in essence smell someone in the act of seeking to navigate the fine and, sadly for some, invisible wall between the two.
More often than not, bad behavior tags along with those who fail to understand the need for clarity in right and wrong. Those who have no issue with doing the wrong thing are also those who easily toss off their actions as “no big deal,” often believing their arrogance and bluster will allow them to get by and pull a fast one. Unfortunately, they are more often right than wrong in this case. Our confused society does indeed seem to let them off the hook.
A real leader is never “on the hook” to begin with. They stand on their own two feet and proudly proclaim in word and deed the marked difference between right and wrong, and would never seek to lead someone astray by even slightly bending these principles.
As simple as setting a line of values and standards for yourself. Based on those values of simple right and wrong. As a leader, you must decide where your line is. How solid it will be. What that line will say about you even if it may cost you friends, colleagues or adoration.
I once watched a fledgling company seek to become a player in their industry, and in the beginning years they went from nothing to a firm on the cusp of breaking out and beating the odds to be successful. They started with a specific mission, and ideal, and stuck to their concept of morality in creating a product and serving the consumer honestly.
There was at the beginning a palpable understanding and show of ethics from their management. It spread into the workforce and empowered their growing employee base to strive for a moral high ground.
But when management lost their moral compass, seeing the ability to turn fast growth into quick bucks if it meant abandoning their ethical code, they were doomed to failure. Within 2 years of lowering their morality bar, they had fired more than 75% of their workforce, lost tens of millions of investor dollars, potentially ruined the careers of dozens of dedicated people, and proven to their industry competition they were morally and ethically bankrupt, willing to do whatever it took to succeed.
The company never recovered. Their alleged leaders were exposed as people of little or no morality, and those who failed to set a solid and lasting ethical standard.
Ethical leadership never wavers, and would never consider anything but staying the course. Your ethics are set in stone, and the solid nature of that leadership facet must be a rock to be built on. Every day. Without fail.
What could be more telling that someone is truly a leader than the simple act of being fair? And in many ways, nothing could be more difficult.
When someone is identified and projects themselves as a leader, they become the individual from whom people want advice. They are sought out because their reputation precedes them as one who is honest and fair, no matter where the conversation or the consequences may take the instance. Again, start with the fact they are known for their moral character and their ethical code.
However, it’s not so easy. Leaders understand that being fair does not mean always agreeing with a person or their point of view. A leader takes in the information, balances it again using that moral and ethical code, and understands this isn’t about being popular. What’s fair for one may not be fair for another, and there could be some hurt feelings along the way. That is the chance a leader accepts.
As they grow into their role, leaders also recognize they must not show favoritism toward one individual over another, one idea over another. Leaders balance their decisions and comments, seeking to find the reality and wisdom in their words and actions. Granted, they won’t always be right. We again learn from our mistakes. But a leader understands their position of bringing some balance to personal and professional lives. And they will not seek to imprint their opinions and decisions on others, instead listening and using their wisdom to help others see the different paths before them, then allowing them to choose for themselves.
Accuracy is truth, the child of morality and ethics. Leaders understand the weight of their words and actions. They grasp the need to accuracy in their advice and comments. It’s a reputation that will follow them into every conversation.
Leaders accept the fact that what they say is being not merely listened to, but picked apart and often extrapolated. They understand the immense pressure to get it right the first time, and in those cases where they’ve overstepped themselves or cited something incorrect, to correct it with all speed and with the same conviction used in making the original statement.
Leaders are deliberate in their attention to detail and accuracy. They understand that even their “off hand” comments carry weight and can influence decisions.
One of my greatest pet peeves here is when someone seeks to back-pedal on a statement by saying “I misspoke.” It’s become a convenient excuse for those who weren’t certain of their facts in the first place. Perhaps it’s my training as a broadcast journalist that has caused me to thankfully be such a stickler for accuracy. Because once it’s out there, it’s tough to take it back.
How often do we see people hearing something that is obviously inaccurate and running with it as fact in seconds? It can then take years for the truth to come out and the mistake to be repaired.
It takes more time, depth, research and life experiences to be accurate. In the end, it’s worth the trouble.
Leaders seek accuracy as the starving individual seeks food. It becomes a personal hunger from which produces a level of trust that becomes a habit without even thinking about it. It comes natural.
We draw all five habits together here with what leaders see as the end result. Everything we’ve discussed here is wrapped into consistency. Without it, all else crumbles.
Leaders learn from those around them and the events that shape the world. They are always in search of adding to their knowledge, seeking to learn from the success and mistakes of others. And themselves.
This could indeed change their minds about certain events and issues. But it won’t change what is at their core.
Be consistent in the messaging. Be consistent in the manner with which you lead.
Those around you that are affected by your words and actions often come to you as verbal and inspirational “comfort food.” They know what they’re getting, and they see value in your leadership. Radical changes will only serve to shatter what has taken time and effort to build.
Consistency is truth. It is faith. It is unwavering confidence and the message.
It is the reason why certain people attain a level of leadership which carries them in high regard, personally and professionally.
Remain consistent at all times in your image, as it defines you sometimes without saying a single word.
Are there more than these five habits shared by leaders with integrity? Certainly, For those who seek to be leaders, and those who have it thrust upon them, there is a constant and lifelong learning curve.
Take these as a starting point, and the race to lead becomes slightly easier.
Because you’re out in front of all the rest, and the winds of success are already at your back.