What is integrity?
Integrity means following your moral or ethical convictions and doing the right thing in all circumstances. It means that your are true to yourself and would do nothing that would disgrace or discredit you. It is your moral compass.
Why is integrity important?
Common sense dictates that integrity should be a valuable leadership trait, and in fact many articles state that integrity is the most important trait.
Why does leadership integrity matter to followers?
If a leader walks the talk, it results in greater confidence in the leader. This consistency of character helps people understand and predict future actions. Those who don’t stand by their words, find themselves losing followers because they can’t trust the leader.
If followers don’t feel that a leader has integrity about a plan of action, they will ask others to confirm what they heard, and then decide what they will do based on the newer more reliable information
Trusted leaders are likely to have more engaged followers who are willing to go the extra mile for them.
Leaders with integrity err on the side of fairness, especially when other people are unfair. A true leader is fair even when they are not treated fairly.
High profile integrity disasters
Although cheating the system can result in short term success, it is built on lies and will not stand the test of time. It becomes a teaching tool in the form of a case study and lessons learned and, may result in more rules or regulations. Here are two examples.
Exxon and seven other oil companies persuaded the town of Valdez to accept a tanker terminal by claiming that a major spill was highly unlikely.
When Exxon’s oil tanker spilled over 240,000 barrels of oil there was no immediate cleanup. The equipment promised for the cleanup was not available. When it became available, it cost $2 billion to cleanup and $1.8 billion for habitat restorations and personal damages.
In addition to the huge costs associated with this disaster, Exxon has also been accused of improperly dealing with human rights issue, influencing American foreign politics, and its stance against climate change. This company has faced scandals and dipping profits and has an unsavory reputation and has become a case study on integrity.
This is the university scandal in the United States, where wealthy parents were charged in a conspiracy to get their children into elite universities. There was cheating on admission tests and bribery of coaches to help students get into these universities. Some of these parents served and or are serving jail time and paid hefty fines.
We see the effects of integrity all too clearly in today’s world. Aside from the two examples above, with COVID taking its toll across the world, integrity is on full display
The pendulum effect
Trust is enforced in the market place through retaliation and reputation. Customers will eventually stop doing business with you, and your followers will stop listening to you, when you are unethical. They will seek out others who will deal fairly and honestly with them.
Has integrity become old fashioned and irrelevant?
For a while…
For whatever reason…
But the pendulum always shifts to restore balance…
It turns out that there is something called the pendulum law or effect which is, ” the movement in one direction that causes an equal movement in a different direction.” The theory or effect states that trends in culture politics, fashion, values, tend to swing back and forth between opposite extremes. It is based on Newton’s Third Law of Social Motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
A sharp swing in one direction or another is due to some imbalance in the system or world, and the pendulum is trying to find the right balance to correct it.
So, a swing back in the other direction may be a move to the good old days. The nostalgia pendulum resurfaces about every 30 years because it takes about thirty-years for critical mass to build up. The masses are saying, we have had enough, we want a change, and we want the good old days back. Private vs public interests are realigned.
Is integrity old fashioned and not in step with today’s self interest and individualism? I would say no. In fact, google trends still shows that integrity and leadership continue to be important topics worldwide.
In my last blog on character, I spoke about how to work on traits to build a better you. No one can be your moral compass, that is your job. You will have to decide whether you can live with what do, and the person you become. If you are willing to compromise your integrity on little things, it becomes easier to compromise on the bigger things.
One small thing that I work on constantly is my word. If I say I will do something, I do it. This is important to me because it means that others can count on me to do and follow through on my promises. Of course, there may be times that unforeseen circumstances happen and make it impossible, but they are rare. Your word (promise) is indicative of so many other things about you like reliability, responsibility and credibility.
When others don’t keep their word, it results in more work for me, disappointment and distrust. How can I rely on that person in the future?
This doesn’t just apply to a work situation, but to personal lives as well. What about someone who needs you to help them move, but you are tired and don’t feel like it. They are stuck, scrambling to make sure that they can move out so someone can move in. Your tiredness has a ripple effect and has created a burden on your friend. What does that say about you?
Your word matters more than you think!
If you can’t or don’t want to do something, say no. It will avoid all the above. No, protects you and it protects the other person, and it preserves your integrity.