“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” —Proverbs 11:3 NIV
Integrity is the foundation of all sound decisions. Your credibility, trustworthiness, and influence depend on it.
The authors of The Leadership Challenge surveyed over one hundred thousand people on what they looked for and admired most in a leader. Honesty topped the list every time. The authors observed, “It’s clear that if people anywhere are willing to follow someone—whether it’s into battle or the boardroom, in the front office or on the production floor—they first want to be sure that the individual is worthy of their trust. . . . No matter what the setting, people want to be fully confident in their leaders, and to be fully confident, they have to believe that their leaders are individuals of authentic character and solid integrity” (emphasis added).
Honest people speak the truth. They live in reality and prefer facts over fiction. Honesty is often used interchangeably with the words authenticity and integrity. Honesty is also the basis of trust. If you trust what someone does, you’ll consider the person dependable, reliable, and consistent. You’ll know what to expect and can count on them. And, honest people admit when they’ve made a mistake or were wrong.
On the other hand, people don’t want dishonest or deceitful leaders—ones who cheat, lie, or are underhanded or tricky. You never know where you stand with them or what may happen. Honesty is the best policy! Honesty will help you navigate through every circumstance, be trustworthy, and avoid compromising your integrity.
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Honesty also means being honest to yourself—a great definition of integrity. With integrity, you can accomplish much. People are always watching leaders to see if they are who they say they are. A leader’s actions speak louder than their words. People need to know you are who you say you are, and you’ll do what you say you’ll do. In other words, do your audio and video match?
Consider the last time you were faced with an ethical decision at your job that you knew you could “get away with.” Did you turn a blind eye to unmistakable wrongdoing? Did you feign ignorance to avoid responsibility? Did you play out different scenarios in your head to figure out what outcome would place you in the best position? Or did you choose to do the right thing regardless of the outcome, and even regardless of personal consequences?
As a leader, you will face such decisions on a routine basis. Some companies are moral minefields. Some employees, coworkers, or bosses are ethical nightmares. To be a person of integrity, you must learn how to navigate the minefields and the nightmares without losing your sense of trust in yourself, your team, and God. You must make integrous decisions, no matter the cost.
- Do you lack integrity?
- Do you quickly acknowledge a lousy decision or mistake without being compelled to do so?
- Do you have an unwavering set of values that guide your decision-making or do circumstances dictate your choices?
- Do you make hard decisions despite the personal cost?
- Do you do what you say you’ll do?
- How will you improve your integrity?
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 James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2017), 76–78.> Read More
Evan, my co-worker at our multi-billion-dollar consumer products company, stopped me in the parking lot. “Have you noticed how execution’s gotten sloppy over the past year?”
He looked down. “Not too long ago, this was one of the best-executing markets. I’m very disappointed. What’s happened?”
I paused. I did know what had happened, but if I told Evan the truth, I knew there’d be consequences. Maybe even for Evan himself. But integrity is a word that means something to me, so I mustered up my courage and told him what I knew. “Did you know the local management team is running a side business out of the office?”
Shocked, he just said, “No.”
“The local team is focused on building their side business, and they’re using company assets for personal gain. They’re violating our Code of Business Conduct, and they’ve lost focus on their primary job responsibilities. That’s the reason execution is so sloppy.”
I could tell that Evan didn’t quite believe me, so I walked him over to a manager’s company vehicle in the parking lot.
“See that?” I pointed to a window decal on the manager’s windshield. “That’s the logo for their side business.”
He shook his head.
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too. If you poke around, you’ll probably find out what’s going on.”
“I will, Preston. I will.”
True to his word, Evan poked. He discovered that the local management team had invented a new sports gadget and were leveraging the company’s people, tools, and supplies to build their side business. Over time, they’d become so consumed with growing their business that they neglected their primary responsibility: marketplace execution.
If questioned about negative business results, the team deflected the inquiries and pointed to factors “outside of their control.” They disguised their side interest by saying all of the right things to upper management. Consequently, the team was left alone to work on their own business on our company’s dime. Eventually, their audio and video didn’t match. Without accountability, the team had abandoned their integrity and slowly moved into corruption.
After my conversation with Evan, I knew that the circumstances and potential consequences would escalate. I called my manager and told him about the conversation. My manager told Human Resources and other leaders about the potential Code of Business Conduct violation.
Following an investigation, several local market leaders were fired for leveraging company assets and personally gaining from their efforts.
Looking back, I’m glad I made the right decision even though it was tough and even though I was saddened that a number of employees lost their jobs. But the experience reminded me of the necessity of integrity—with others and with myself.
I learned that when you become a person of integrity, you can become a leader, others will follow because of your honesty.
Unfortunately, one more potential consequence came to pass as a result of that side-business hustle operation going on right under my nose. The investigation also revealed that Evan might have seen the signals but had turned his head and ignored them. Regardless, he was found to be complicit and was forced to retire.
It was a bittersweet moment. I’d worked with the team for years and didn’t want any harm to come to them. At the same time, I knew I needed to expose the wrong I saw. For years after these displacements, I worked in fear of retribution, thinking that someone would take revenge for my standing up for what was right.
Gratefully, that never happened, and I remained true to my value of integrity. Now, anytime I’m tempted to skirt the truth in my words or actions, I think about that side-business logo that ultimately cost multiple people their jobs.
It doesn’t take much for a house of cards to fall.
That’s why it’s essential for leaders to lead with integrity. If you’re the one responsible for building a strong team or a strong company, your peers and employees need to know they can trust you.
Being integrous is hard but worth the cost because it will be your best friend and help you achieve your goals. So, how does one measure his or her integrity? In John C. Maxwell’s book, Becoming a Person of Influence, he offers ten questions to evaluate your integrity[i]. As you read the questions, rate yourself from 1 to 10, with ten being fully integrous and 1 with no integrity:
#1 How well do I treat people from whom I can gain nothing?
#2 Am I transparent with others?
#3 Do I role-play based on the person(s) I’m with?
#4 Am I the same person when I’m in the spotlight as I am when I’m alone?
#5 Do I quickly admit wrongdoing without being pressed to do so?
#6 Do I put other people ahead of my personal agenda?
#7 Do I have an unchanging standard for moral decisions, or do circumstances determine my choices?
#8 Do I make difficult decisions, even when they have a personal cost attached to them?
#9 When I have something to say about people, do I talk to them or about them?
#10 Am I accountable to at least one other person for what I think, say, and do?
Did any of those hit home? Take some time to reflect and choose your three areas that need the most improvement. Then, pick your top area of needed improvement. Ask yourself, why is it essential for me to improve in this area? How will I become a better person and a better leader? Why will it be important to others? What actions will I take to grow, when will I start and who will hold me accountable?
Take time to write down your answers to the above questions. Let the words from my lips move to your fingertips. If you do, you’ll know what you think by reading what you write. Also, share what you’ve written down with someone you trust and ask them to hold you accountable. Real change begins when you are vulnerable and transparent with someone and ask for their support.
I’ll end with a quote from Thomas Jefferson, “God grant that men (and women) of principle be our principal men (and women).”[ii]May you be integrous in all of your ways and be a man or woman of principle.
[i]Excerpt From: John C. Maxwell & Jim Dornan. “Becoming a Person of Influence.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/becoming-a-person-of-influence/id607555354
[ii]Excerpt From: John C. Maxwell & Jim Dornan. “Becoming a Person of Influence.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/becoming-a-person-of-influence/id607555354
I’m a disciple of Christ and an executive at a Fortune 500 Company. In my blog, The Discipled Leader, I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work.
As a certified coach, speaker, and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, I help others grow their relationship with Christ, develop their leadership skills, and understand how they can make a positive difference in today’s chaotic world.
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