Why is integrity important to leadership and to your business?
A couple of years ago The Observer asked a voter focus group what they thought was the most important attribute for leaders to have and integrity topped the list, but what exactly is integrity and why is it so important to leadership and your business as a whole?
What is integrity?
It’s become a bit of an industry buzz word and a catch all for ‘good’ leadership, but integrity is a quality that goes deep.
The Observer focus group perceived integrity as 'being yourself', 'sticking to your beliefs', and being 'someone to look up to' and the Oxford Dictionary defines it as 'the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles'.
Integrity is really all or nothing. Trust, authenticity and principles can’t be turned on or off – you either have them or you don’t. And you either live with integrity or you don’t, in and outside of the office.
For real integrity the codes, ethics and values we live by at work must mirror those we live by outside of work. Real personal integrity can't be faked, it's developed by focusing on how your behaviours match your values.
Not sure what your authentic values are? Consider a self-audit. Think about who you admire and why, what positive attributes you share and want to build on and what attributes they have that you’d like to gain. It can also be useful to find out how others view you – ask fellow leaders, team members and your wider network about what you do well and where you could improve.
So when we’ve established our self-integrity what does that mean for leadership? How can we demonstrate true integrity when we head up a team?
Leading with integrity
"The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office."
Dwight D. Eisenhower
People are drawn to integrity, it makes them feel safe, trusted and valued. When a leader shows integrity their people know they will do what's right for the team and right for the business.
If you want to lead with integrity these principles are a good place to start:
Lead by example
Integrity is all about doing what you say you will - even in times of crisis and challenge. Be a role model, turn up to every meeting you've promised to be at, honour client commitments, and if you can't make or do something be open and honest about why not. Doing what you say you will breed trust and strengthens relationships.
Honesty and trust are built on openness. There will be times when you can't give your team the whole picture but if you can't share information tell them why and keep communication channels open. Direct and open communication shows you are acting with authenticity and honesty.
Be fair and democratic
When you lead with integrity fairness is key. By setting clear goals, roles and responsibilities you can avoid double-standards and 'favour' perceptions and hold yourself accountable to the same standards and expectations. And make sure your team get the credit for their contributions, seek opportunities to praise and recognise individual and collective efforts.
Don't be afraid to admit mistakes and share your challenges. People want an authentic leader, not a perfect one. Showing how you learn and grow through challenges encourages your team to do the same and sharing your experiences can create stronger bonds and more authentic relationships.
Building a culture of integrity
For integrity to really make a difference to your business it needs to go beyond leadership and be embedded in your culture.
Make it visible – talk to your team about integrity, why it's important to you, them and the business.
Encourage accountability and ownership – authentic commitment is key to working with integrity and giving ownership shows you trust your team.
Have a clear feedback process – regular forums for feedback helps to develop trust, openness and a culture of fairness.
Is integrity more important than ever?
We're operating in a world that's increasingly unpredictable. Where priorities change overnight, strategies shift and challenges come thick and fast. But in times of crisis integrity is more important than ever. Staying true to your values will reassure people, when uncertainty abounds trust is key, and embracing vulnerability will help you and your team take on challenges together.
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