Why is integrity important in leadership?

by | Apr 28, 2014 | Blog, High Road Accountability and Ethics, High Road Leadership

Ring Frame

Let us start with what integrity means.

Imagine a magnificent 14 carat gold ring; one that has no breaks in it, such as a man’s wedding ring. It is a completely unbroken circle. The ring’s completeness and strength as one solid piece represents integrity, which means entirety or wholeness.

If I took a saw and cut this ring, it is no longer whole and its strength or integrity has been severely weakened.

The leader represents and personifies ideals. As a High Road® leader these ideals are lofty, positive, and uplifting. Imagine a leader named Sam who constantly reminds his employees that he believes in honesty and personal accountability. Sam tells them that these ideals or values are things that he wants his employees to work and live by.  This leadership style is symbiotic to the beautiful gold ring that shines with a magnificent glow.

One day, Sam decides it is too nice of a day to be indoors so he opts to play golf instead of working and he texts his personal assistant Carol “I am taking a sick day.” Janice, one of Sam’s vice presidents, is visiting a client at the country club where he golfs. Later that day, she mentions to Carol where she ran into Sam.

Two days later Sam forgets to attend a meeting with a key vendor, even though it was on his calendar. When Sam calls the vendor to apologize, Carol overhears him say, “I rely on my assistant to manage my schedule and I guess she left our meeting off of my calendar.”

This beautiful ring is now ruined because he made it less than whole and tarnished its shine.

In other words, Sam professes to believe in honesty and accountability, important character traits that lead to leadership integrity. However, his actions show Carol and others that he does not really believe in them because he lied about his day off and refused to accept responsibility for the calendar mishap.

Now, let us understand how this impacts the people that Sam leads—your followers or employees.

Remember the story about the Emperor’s New Clothes? The moral of this fable applies here because a leader is held up as a paragon of how to behave. When it comes to a leader’s behaviors, the leader is naked.

Carol asks herself, “If Sam lied about being sick and then lied about forgetting his appointment (which he blamed on me) then what else is he lying to me about? How can I believe him? I can no longer trust him at his word.”

In other words, as a person and as a leader Sam lacks integrity. This golden ring he represents is not whole and definitely not a shining example of what to do.

Integrity is to a leader what a plot is to a movie. The movie can be made without a good logical storyline but very few will watch it and the movie won’t make any money. A leader without integrity might hold a position of leading others but very few will be willing to follow because the leader lacks a believable storyline. Sam is showing that he might be morally bankrupt and few will respect a leader like that.

As a leader, your wholeness shows up in the congruity (or lack of it) between what you say and do; between what you profess and how you act, especially when no one is looking.