In most analyses of leadership competencies, integrity is at or near the head of the list. In 2014, I posted an “oldie but goodie” list of leadership attributes. That list came from a post by Ken Gaffey on ERE.net dating back to 2002.
Mr. Gaffey put integrity at the top of a list of twelve leadership qualities. In fact, all twelve qualities he names relate in some way to integrity.
As Michael Hyatt stated in 10 Mistakes Leaders Should Avoid at All Costs (post undated),
“There are many things you can lack and still steer clear of danger. Integrity isn’t one of them.”
This was number 3 on Mr. Hyatt’s list of mistakes that leaders must avoid, but frankly, his number one mistake—pride and arrogance—is closely related. Arrogant leaders are more likely to believe that the rules don’t apply to them, which is where a lack of integrity comes in.
“You cannot set policies that employees need to live by, and not live by them yourself. That will never work in the long run.”
Some leadership traits depend on the organization and its mission. Consensus-building is more important in some organizations than in others that depend more on command. But integrity is important in every organization.
It doesn’t matter if the organization is military, corporate, nonprofit, or political. The integrity of leaders defines the integrity of the organization. Think about the current political campaign, and you can see it is true. The high negatives of some candidates are the direct result of people’s sense that they lack integrity.
Think about your own organization. Not all leaders are effective. But the unethical ones are the ones we despise, the ones we avoid.
In an earlier post, I mentioned a leader who backstabbed me. Even though he later got his comeuppance, it was too late for me. He was one of the reasons I left that organization when I did.
But there are other leaders who are less overt about their lack of integrity. They may even believe that they are highly ethical. One executive I worked with failed to provide feedback to internal candidates for a senior position for months. His excuse was that he hadn’t made a final decision on who would be selected—one of the internal candidates or an external candidate. But he knew full well during this period that one of the internal candidates was a long-shot and that two other internal candidates would NOT be selected, and he told them nothing. Was it ethical to string these employees along? The HR people working on this search lost respect for the leader as a result of his failure to be forthright with these candidates.
The news is full of unethical behavior every day. Don’t let yourself behave the same way. And consider how long you want to remain in an organization where integrity is not at the top of the leadership competency profile—both in theory and in practice.
When have you had to work with an unethical leader? What did it do to your morale?