We define Integrity as the alignment of what you think, what we say and what we do such that they all tell the same story. We are constantly judged on how these three dimensions align as we interact with others. However, only two of these are visible to others and create the most common input to how others view us. In personal settings, the misalignment between these elements may create some personal conflict. As leaders, the misalignment between our words and our actions could ultimately destroy them!
It is amazing to me the disconnect between what leaders say they will do and what they ultimately do without realizing the consequences of the disconnect! For example, comments suggesting a leader is committed to the mission and strategy of the organization while that same leader consistently misses on meeting goals and delivering on the promise. When it comes time to evaluate that leader’s integrity, they are given an excellent rating. How can that be? If actions do not support words, the leader is clearly out-of-integrity, a term not widely spoken yet more widely displayed. How do leaders today maintain their integrity in the complex environment that is today’s leadership environment?
- Out-of-integrity is real! Not only does it exist, but it has negative consequences ranging from the “white-lie” variety to the complete breakdown in trust in leadership. Integrity is not situational, although leaders will certainly face a plethora of situations that will challenge their integrity on a regular basis. Recognize the condition of out-of-integrity in your beliefs, words and actions and be clear on what actions you will take to avoid letting it enter your own leadership accountability mindset!
- If you say it, do it! You would think this would be easy enough for any leader to do. Usually, leaders will say things they have every intention of acting on. Of course, occasionally we encounter an out and out liar (although I hesitate to put them in the leader category at all). Typically, it is the well-intended leader who realizes there are more obstacles to doing what was said than originally thought. Either that or the original conditions and/or assumptions changed which will happen often. In either case, the integrity remains intact through continuous communications, updated for the new conditions. Followers would rather hear the updated narrative than hear nothing from a leader’s fear of being wrong!
- If you can’t do it, don’t say it! I find this is the most difficult scenario for leaders to grapple with. This requires leaders to have a true assessment of what is and is not possible for both themselves and their organizations. It requires a correct assessment of personal strengths and weaknesses and a public admission (passively or directly) that they do not have all the answers. It requires leaders to have a plan that sets expectations for what and why the organization competes the way it does. Those who know me well know I often state, “Hope is not a strategy” when speaking of knowing your business strategy. Leaders must commit to their plan in both word and action in a way that the organization can accomplish their mission!
When all is said and done, people want to be led well. Leading with integrity where beliefs, words and actions are in full alignment with each other means expectations are fully understood. Followers base their level of trust on how what they see aligns with what they hear from their leaders. What the organization sees and hears from its leaders ultimately sets the stage for sustainable success!
What narrative are your words and actions telling your followers?