How do you maintain your integrity as a leader?
This research from the Institute of Leadership and Management shows that while 83% of managers say their organizations have value statements, only 38% consider they are closely aligned to those statements. That’s a huge disconnect. Further, some 63% of people surveyed believe they have been asked to take action which goes against the values of their business. This must call into question the integrity as a leader.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are entering a business world where ethics, values and integrity are priorities for customers and employees alike. For any business to compete, the values statement which had been written and tossed in a drawer is having to be pulled out, the dust blown off and implemented in a more meaningful and practical way, and if you are in charge, you must know how to maintain your integrity as a leader.
It all starts with the leader
Of course, it all starts with the leader and if the leader can’t walk the talk on values and ethics, then it matters not what the rest of the team are doing because it is the leader who sets the tone.
One of the problems highlighted in the research was that there was much confusion about what ethical behavior constituted. In my own experience, I have seen leaders lose the trust and respect of their employees when they have overstepped the boundaries not only of their value statements but when they have failed to display the following behaviors.
1. Keeping your word
I’ve seen leaders fall into this trap many times. Typically, a leader will say they are going to do something, it might be around reward or terms of employment, or even improving something, and nothing happens. Mostly this occurs not because leaders are disingenuous with their promises, but mainly because of procrastination. The trouble with procrastinating on a promise is by the time you get around to following through, you have already lost the trust and confidence of your team.
2. Making fair decisions
I worked with a client who had clearly lost trust in her CEO. Part of the work she carried out was approving applications from people who needed to qualify for certain services. She had received an application from a high profile person who clearly did not meet the criteria. My client was disappointed and disillusioned to find out this person had been qualified by her CEO, as “an exception”. Just one badly skewed decision can result in losing the respect of your team forever.
3. Practicing non-judgment
There is a fine distinction between passing judgment in terms of good and bad, and that of discerning what is wanted and unwanted. I remember an instance when an employee had lost their job because they had stolen some money from a business I was working with. The employee was immediately fired. The business had no choice, not only show this behavior wasn’t wanted, or acceptable, but to make sure it didn’t happen again. It turns out, however, the employee had been suffering from extreme stress and had been acting completely out of character. The CEO recognizing this had helped the employee to get the right help to get their life on track. The CEO would never have been able to do this if they had judged the person. The trick here is to do something about unwanted behaviors but to still care for the person in a non-judgmental way. I was talking to a governor of a prison, and she concluded that the majority of people in her institute were there in situations which she termed “Oh but for the grace of God there go I“.
4. Giving credit where it’s due
Hands up if you’ve ever been in a board meeting, and you know someone is claiming credit for something one of their subordinates has done? I’ve seen this happen time and time again and the negative effect on a team can be permanently damaging. Even if you have headed up or initiated a project or piece of work, always give credit to the team who have helped you get the result.
5. Communicating honestly
It’s always easy, to be honest with your team when the news is good. The problem is when there is bad or controversial news to be communicated. I have seen leaders stall or procrastinate using excuses which sound worthy, but are misguided. Sometimes leaders think they are protecting their people, or saving them from unnecessary worry by not being honest about what’s happening. But in my experience, when leaders aren’t straight, the team almost always find out, with disastrous results in destroyed trust, and it’s key to avoid this by maintaining your integrity as a leader.