The Importance of Integrity in Leadership

In today’s world, we often look for faster ways of getting things done.  The magic of technology makes this possible.  And, there are all kinds of ways to cut through processes when they start getting in the way of progress.  One thing we can never afford to compromise however, is the integrity with which we conduct ourselves.  That’s what this post is about.

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No amount of ability is of the slightest avail without honour… Andrew Carnegie

Good leadership relies on our ability to live our lives with courage, strength of character and honesty. It is harder to do than talk about but without it, leaders can’t thrive for any length of time regardless of how skilled they may be otherwise.

There have been many prominent leaders who have risen to great heights only to fall with a severe thud because they have acted solely out of self-interest.  Sadly and frustratingly, there is a lot of evidence of this.

These people have, or are experiencing, the consequences of a kind of self-absorption, that assumes that power gives them a certain exemption from behaving responsibly and honourably.

What they seem to have ignored, or failed to understand, is that the more powerful we become, the greater is our responsibility to others. And, when leaders go awry of honourable actions, the impact of their 
behaviour is felt very deeply by people who have had little, if anything, to do with decisions made on their behalf. At these times, honour is offered as a sacrifice to greed and trust is destroyed.

Trust is one of those things that often takes a long time to build but only a minute to destroy. As such, it is a thing to be treasured and protected. That’s where strength of character comes in, and where telling the truth and keeping promises become vital.

Okay, so we’re all human and who among us has never told a lie? But, the consequences of deception and lies often have a greater impact than we think when we first venture into the realm of the untruth. It is a lesson that most of us learn eventually.

There is a certain arrogance in believing that the rules of the universe apply to everyone but me. And, believe me, there have been times when I have been very arrogant indeed… always with a poor result.

Maybe this is what happens to business leaders who come to believe in their own importance to the exclusion of everything else.

Skill and talent can take us only so far. To travel the rest of the way, we must make sure we bring with us a large measure of honourable intent, concern for the welfare of others and the willingness and courage to do what is right, even when it means giving up something we want very badly.  That’s what makes it so hard.

One of my favourite movies is “Scent of a Woman”.  In it, Al Pacino’s character makes a declaration that speaks to exactly how difficult it is to live a life with integrity…and exactly why it is so necessary.  I offer it here with no intent to infringe copyright but simply to reinforce the movie’s message and my own.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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33 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Leadership Values, organizational culture

33 responses to “The Importance of Integrity in Leadership

  1. “there is nothing like the site of an amputated spirit” “be careful what kind of leaders you are producing here.” Great stuff.

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  4. Dear Gwyn, being a family owned business, conducting ourselves in an impeccable manner has always been very important. Sadly, the word integrity (and honour) is spurned – and misunderstood, and in my opinion borders on ‘near extinction.’ There are however some family businesses who are humble and who do try and practise this very important aspect of running a successful business. (Thank you for your blogs, you are an inspiration to us all)

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Sean ~ As long as there continues to be businesses like yours that strive to keep integrity alive, there is hope for all of us. Thank you for that and for your very kind words.

  5. Shanie Nash

    Superb post! As educators we have enormous responsibility that we should never underestimate or ignore, regarding the future leaders that we are shaping. We must lead by example and take every opportunity to develop the integrity, ‘outtrospection’ and resilience of our learners. It is so encouraging to read posts like this, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Shanie ~ I think the role of educators in helping to shape our future leaders is too often under-estimated and most certainly under-appreciated in a variety of ways. Thank you for your dedication to helping people understand what integrity really means.

  6. Regarding your comment about “There have been many prominent leaders who have risen to great heights only to fall with a severe thud because they have acted solely out of self-interest. Sadly and frustratingly, there is a lot of evidence of this.”

    I think there is a far more dangerous time, when leaders never do fall, but continue to influence people and organizations out one side of their mouth while their own actions are those of self-interest. I recently left an organization where the top six were so caught up in the entrapments of their perceived station in life, that we watched business decisions that were made for unfathomable reasons. When we would break down what happened, it usually went back to preservation of the perqs and benefits of these folks.

    I left after three years, but there are many still waiting for the thud. I wonder if it actually will come.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Carol ~ “there are many still waiting for the thud”. I think you are right about that. I think too, a big contributing factor to having it happen is when good, talented, skilled people leave those organizations, as you did. We may never see some of these people take their own particular fall but I’m reminded of the old adage, If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?. I’m thinking, it may or may not but it still falls.
      Thank you for sharing your story and for adding thought to this conversation.

  7. This is a great article. Sometimes we forget that the world is not just running around ourselves, there is something more important we have to bring into it.
    These lines from the article describe a factor that many people are missing. “Skill and talent can take us only so far. To travel the rest of the way, we must make sure we bring with us a large measure of honourable intent, concern for the welfare of others and the willingness and courage to do what is right, even when it means giving up something we want very badly. That’s what makes it so hard.”

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Oliya, Yes, your comment reminds me that there is a needed balance between rights and responsibilities. Sometimes, as humans, we claim the former without giving due thought or consideration to the latter. Thanks for that!

  8. Carl A. Lindberg

    Many have extolled the importance of mission, vision, process thinking and value statements for organizations to develp/maintain organizational integrity and agilty. From my corporate & university experience, I would say the same items are also of key importance for leaders themselves. In our fast changing 21st century, leaders need these above items to help keep them “on course”

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Couldn’t have said it better. Thank you, Carl. It reminds me too, that those who take the time to develop mission, vision, process thinking and value statements for their organizations yet fail to live up to the intent of them personally, are wasting their time and likely everyone else’s too.

  9. To be honest with you, i don’t know how big corporates motivate and drive these very important values. I find that maintaining focus and momentum is very difficult, and time consuming. In our little business, that has a staff compliment of 118 people i spend a good part of the day mentoring and aligning our staffs attitudes. A critical aspect of our business, maintained and intact – but at a cost!

    • Sean, you are right about the challenge – in my experience, the leader’s role is complicated by too many demands on their time, and often the result is overlooking the people. It seems like you’ve made a good priority decision.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Sean, I agree with Carol and am reminded of the video clip where Pacino’s character speaks of knowing the right road. He always knew what the right road was. He didn’t take it because it was too hard. You have chosen your road too, at a cost, as you say. In my experience, there is a price on everything. Those who choose to operate without integrity will also pay in one way or another. I’d rather put my money on you and your choices.

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  11. Glenn

    Excellent – one only has to consider that time or place where there was not trust, not integrity – how much less productive and fulfilling was that period!
    thanks – terrific post!

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