Last week, we began to unpack five types of integrity that are crucial to effective leadership. We covered the first three: Consistency between your public and private life, doing what you say you’re going to do, and expectations. Now we’ll take a look at two additional types of integrity.
This is easily the most common area where integrity is breached, so much so that it’s usually not regarded as a breach of integrity at all. The breach arises from an inconsistency between words (or thoughts, passions, or feelings) and deeds, not necessarily from ethical failure. If there is inconsistency between what you say is important and how you actually behave, it will read to others as a breach of integrity even if it’s not viewed as an ethical breach. For example, if you claim diversity in hiring is critical, but it’s not happening, people will read a breach in integrity even if other things are going well. If you sit in a meeting and tell your marketing team how important their efforts are to you and the company but then cut their budget, they won’t believe your message. Our actions speak so loud people can’t hear our words.
Self-awareness comes into play here. We must know ourselves—what we actually deem critically important instead of what we think should be important—well enough to ensure our actions align with what we claim matters.
When I launched The Pillar Seminary, I thought it would be, like most schools, focused on equipping people to enter the field. But we quickly realized our passion was for people already in the field. So we had to retool the design of the seminary to reflect that passion, turning it into degree programs focused on continuing education. This allowed our passion to be consistent with our actions.
5. True to yourself
I believe this to be the most difficult area of integrity to master. First, it assumes you know yourself well enough to be true to yourself. Gaining self-awareness takes time and serious introspection. Second, the factors that prevent us from keeping true to ourselves are numerous. We fear what other people will think, we fear criticism, we fear putting up healthy boundaries, we fear missing out, to name a few.
At the corporate level being true to yourself can become difficult because of all the opportunity that’s out there. I recently spoke with a CEO who forced his team, against their will, to forego a lucrative opportunity. The team believed it was close enough to what they do to take on the opportunity without incurring any risk. But the CEO shut it down. Why? Because it’s ‘not what we do.’ He had a robust view of who they are as a company and was determined not to derail their progress on tangential projects, even if those projects could be lucrative. He had the far-reaching vision to see where off-center opportunities could lead. He understood their target market and had the courage to stick to it. It was the corporate version of remaining true to yourself despite the very tangible fear of missing out.
As you consider these five areas of leadership integrity, I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite leadership authors, Warren Bennis. “If knowing yourself and being yourself were as easy to do as to talk about, there wouldn’t be nearly so many people walking around in borrowed postures, spouting secondhand ideas, trying desperately to fit in rather than to stand out. Former Lucky Stores CEO Don Ritchey said, ‘I believe people spot phonies in very short order, whether that be on an individual basis or a company basis.’”