Integrity is a core leadership trait for those who want to build trust and develop relationships, yet it can feel unattainable. There is no perfect standard of integrity, but learning leaders can start with the premise that integrity is not something attained by following a set of external rules. Leaders who adjust their natural behaviors to fit external rules can only sustain those behaviors for so long before who they really are shows through. That is why an organization’s values must precede rules and regulations.
When Clarient Inc., a cancer diagnostics company, sponsored a leadership workshop in January 2012, participants embraced conversations about the values driving their organization, but they were much less engaged in discussions about behavioral expectations. That is unusual because leadership teams often focus on behaviors in a developmental context.
“We were recognized as the best place to work in Orange County because we realize that cultivating integrity is an inside-out process,” said Sherrie Kline, former senior human resources director at Clarient. “Being what we value and believe is the true meaning of integrity.”
External outcomes are indicators of what lies beneath a leader’s surface; they are not the product of rules. Further, individual and organizational success is proportional to a leader’s integrity. Stephen M.R. Covey demonstrates this principle in his book The Speed of Trust, showing that integrity — living what one authentically values and believes — establishes trust and is pivotal to individual, team and organizational success.
Integrity originates in a person’s values and beliefs and is proven when difficult choices arise. Leaders who value employees for their inherent worth will behave differently than someone who believes employees are to be used for personal or professional gain. Leaders who value reliability regardless of the sacrifice will behave differently than if they believe commitments can be broken for a better opportunity. If leaders believe their mission is to benefit the world, they will behave differently than if they believe the mission is to satisfy their own needs.
What follows are some steps leaders can use to identify the strong and weak aspects of individual integrity, working through the principle of reverse engineering to bring an individual to the desired outcome:
• Identify one specific aspect of life — outcomes and behaviors — that brings fulfillment or results in dissatisfaction or disappointment.
• What behavior(s) did you choose? How well did that work for you? For others?
• What emotions did you experience from that behavior or outcome?
• What were your primary thoughts about the situation before you acted? What assumptions were made? What alternative thoughts could you have considered?
• What values and beliefs played into the thoughts you experienced? Did you act out of your core values and beliefs? Did you concede to external pressures, fears, worries or ideas?
The secret to building leadership integrity begins with a willingness to look deep within an individual’s inner core to determine what someone values and believes. Once employees take this honest assessment, they can build personal goals with strength and durability, and integrity is the result.
Diane Kucala is chief leadership officer for Blueprint Leadership, a corporate leadership training and organizational development company. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com