Leadership Barometer 71 Demonstrate Integrity

November 11, 2020

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Demonstrate Integrity

Lou Holtz, the famous football coach had a remarkably simple philosophy of doing business. It consisted of three simple little rules: 1) Do Right, 2) Do the best you can, and 3) Treat other people like you would like to be treated.

The basic Do Right Rule means acting with integrity. If doing what is right is such a basic and easy thing, why am I even bothering to write about it?

It’s simple; most leaders have a hard time figuring out what the right thing is. That is a stunning indictment to make, but I really believe it is true on occasion. Reason: in the melee of everyday challenges, it is so easy to make a judgment that seems right under the circumstances, but when extrapolated to its logical conclusion it is really not ethical, or moral, or it is just plain dumb.

Rationalization

For a leader, it is easy to rationalize the particular situation and convince yourself that something marginal is really OK to do “all things considered.” There must be a safeguard for this common problem. There is, and I will reveal it later in this article.

The Problem Escalation

I believe that most of the huge organizational scandals of the past started out as subtle value judgments by leaders in their organizations. There was a decision point where they could have taken path A or path B. While path B was “squeaky clean” in terms of the ethics involved, path A was also perfectly logical and acceptable based on the rules in place at the time and was also somewhat more profitable than Path B.

The problem is that if path A was acceptable today, then A+ would be fine the next day, and A++ the next. Other people would get involved, and the practice would get more embedded into the culture.

Eventually, after a few years, it was clear that rules were being bent all over the place in order for the organization to look good to investors. There was no convenient way to roll back the ethical clock, nor was there any impetus. They seemed to be “getting away with it.”

Ultimately the practice, whether it was Enron’s disappearing assets or Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme, became too big to hide and things blew up.

My contention is that these people were not intending to do bad things originally, they just got caught up in what Alan Greenspan called irrational exuberance and had no way to quit the abuse. Of course, by that time they really were evil people doing evil things, but I believe it did not start out with those intentions.

At the start I believe these leaders were truly blind to the origin of corruption that brought down their empires and bankrupt thousands of individuals in the process.

The Antidote

How can leaders protect themselves from getting caught up in a web of deception if they were originally blind to the problem? It’s simple; they needed to create a culture of transparency and trust whereby being whistle blower was considered good because it protected the organization from going down the wrong path.

Imagine if the culture in an organization was such that when someone (anyone) in the company was concerned about the ethics of current practice and he or she brought that concern to light, there would have been a reward rather than punishment.

To accomplish this, leaders need to reinforce candor, in every phase of operations. It has to be a recognized policy that seeing something amiss brings with it an obligation to speak up, but that is OK because speaking up will bring rewards.

When leaders at all levels reward the whistle blower, it sets up a culture of high trust because it drives out fear. One of my favorite quotes is, “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

The concept or rewarding candor creates opportunities for leaders to see things that would otherwise be hidden and take corrective action before the tsunami gets started.

It also allows leaders to be fallible human beings and make mistakes without having them become a reason for them to spend the rest of their life in jail.

So here is a good test of your leadership ability. How transparent is your organization? Do you truly reward employees when they bring up things that do not seem right to them, or are they put down and punished?


Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Blind CEOs

April 3, 2011

In my consulting work, I am often called in by senior executives (CEO, COO, or VPHR) to help them improve trust within the organization. The conversation usually starts out with some form of description of a dysfunctional organization at the shop floor level. Often the lower level managers and supervisors are singled out as the culprits, and the top officers are asking me to come in and “fix them.”

This is often a dilemma for me because if I say something like “have you considered what your contribution is to the problem,” I find myself out in the street on my butt. If I do take the challenge to go in and fix the lower ranks, it is inevitable that these lower managers will tell me that the main source of the problem is the senior level. This article shines a light on the problem of CEOs (and other top leaders) being blind to their personal contribution to a toxic environment. I will offer some ideas on the cause and several antidotes that can be tried to achieve a more balanced, and hence more effective approach to reducing organizational problems.

The CEO is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in an organization, but there is often great frustration because, while the CEO has set out a vision and tries to communicate it often, the rank and file keep accusing her of not communicating well. Several studies have revealed that employees most often state “lack of communication” as either the number one or number two reason for employee dissatisfaction (Wiedmer, 2009). This is extremely frustrating to many CEOs, because they are sincerely working hard to communicate every day. Given a choice between their own defective “mouth,” and the employees’ defective “ears,” most CEOs would rather focus blame on the employees.

In many cases, the root cause of the frustration is neither defective outgoing communication nor listening prowess. It is a lack of trust. There is a cultural schism between organizational levels that is based more on fear than on lack of communication. Workers do not often verbalize the fear because, well, they are afraid. So the issues get reported as communication problems.

CEOs are blind because they understand their own objectives clearly and are fully justified internally for every action they take. Reason: it is next to impossible for a sane person to take an action different from what he or she believes is the best one at the moment. If there was a better choice, that would be the one selected. So the CEO is doing the “right” thing in nearly all cases in his or her own opinion. If people interpret the CEOs actions as inconsistent with the values, then they must be wrong.

Another cause of CEO blindness is lack of Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman(1997) described a phenomenon where individuals with low EI struggle because they have a blind spot and cannot see themselves as others do. A person with low EI will believe the problem exists with other people and not be aware at all of his or her own contribution to problems. One way to begin to see is to get some formal training in Emotional Intelligence.

What are some of the other ways a CEO, or other top officer, can begin to see his or her contribution to organizational problems more clearly?

Become a level 5 Leader – as described by Jim Collins (2001). Get some coaching on humility and try to begin using the “window/mirror” analogy. This is where a leader looks out the window at others in the organization when things are going well, but looks in the mirror at herself when there are problems.

Become a mentor – Seek out several informal leaders in the organization and begin to mentor them. The process of building trust with strong underlings will allow more flow of critical information about when the leader is sending mixed or incorrect signals. It is important to listen to these individuals when they give input. When the person giving input is candid, it is important that he is made to feel glad he brought up the issue. Many leaders punish people who bring up inconsistencies, which becomes a huge trust buster.

Do more “management by walking around” – This may seem awkward at first because the CEO may prefer the security and isolation of the ivory tower. That is one hallmark of the problem. Too many meetings and lunches in the Executive Dining Room give rise to insulation that renders the top executive insensitive to organizational heat.

Conduct a 360 Degree Leadership Evaluation – A periodic measure of high level leadership skills is one way to prevent a top leader from kidding himself. There are numerous instruments to accomplish this. Personally, I found the surveys to be similar and missed some of the more important aspects of true leadership. In frustration, I wrote my own assessment for top leaders. It is available at http://www.leadergrow.com/leadership-assessment. Doing an assessment is important, but taking the data seriously and creating a plan from the information is crucial.

Get a good coach – Every leader needs a coach to help prevent myopic thinking. Seek out a trusted advisor for a long term relationship that is candid and challenging. Coaching sessions can be efficient by doing them after hours on the phone, or by using SKYPE technology.

Develop a leadership study group – A leader can grow personally in parallel with underlings by investing some time studying the inspirational writings and video work of top leadership authors or benchmarking leaders from other organizations. There are literally thousands of resources already available that can both inspire and challenge any group. These investments are very low cost, and all that is required is to read the books and carve out some discussion time with direct reports in a group setting. Many leaders prefer the “lunch and learn” sessions. Some leaders work with a skilled facilitator to keep things on track; other leaders prefer to proceed on their own without outside assistance. If face time is impractical due to travel, that does not prevent an online discussion on leadership concepts from literature.

Subscribe to some Leadership LinkedIn Groups – There are dozens of excellent leadership groups on LinkedIn. These groups can have thousands or tens of thousands of leaders who can benchmark each other and help resolve typical problems. There are also numerous local and national organizations on leadership development that can provide provocative ideas for growth.

These are just a few ideas that can broaden the view of a top executive. Becoming less blind has the wonderful effect of helping a leader become more effective over time. I believe it is incumbent on all leaders to have a personal development plan and to give it a high priority in terms of effort and budget. Seeking to constantly grow as a leader is truly important, and growing other leaders should be the highest calling for any leader.


What If You Are a Jerk But Don’t Know It?

February 27, 2011

It seems impossible, but you could actually be a jerk. You may think you are a perfectly normal, fun-loving person that other people just love to be around, but you could be dead wrong and not even realize it. People might have low respect for you because of any number of bad habits or insensitive things you do or say.

Let’s have a little fun with this analysis and see where it leads. Let’s suppose there is a great bell-shaped curve in the sky that shows the distribution of official jerks. The center of the bell shaped curve is neither a jerk nor a wonderful person. To the left of the center are increasing levels of jerkiness. Individuals far to the left of the mean would be categorized by most people as jerks. The rest of the population are not necessarily jerks, and the ones to the right of the mean are great people.

Now, we separate out the jerks and put them all in a line. Maybe you’ve seen them at the grocery store in the express line with 20 items in their basket. We bring each person into a room individually and ask the person if he or she is a jerk. Note: At this point I am going to switch to the male pronouns “he” and “him” to avoid awkward construction. Actually, the tendency toward being a jerk is probably gender neutral, but I am not going to get into that!

In a high percentage of the cases, the individual will honestly not believe he is a jerk. Reason: this person knows why he is acting the way he is and believes it is the right thing to do in every case. If he believed something else was right, he would do that. In other words, our friend on the low end of the scale would be deceiving himself that he is not a jerk when he actually is one according to other people.

If a person was at the extreme left on the jerk scale, then he might have a clue that he is really rubbing people the wrong way most of the time. He would know that because of the body language and feedback he gets from others. That still does not stop him from being a jerk; it just means that he knows about it.

Now comes the fun part. We add the element of time. Since we can act like a saint one moment and a devil the next, we may be perceived by others as being a jerk sometimes and not other times. Of course, we normally do not know the difference between these two states, so we figure we are basically OK most of the time. Behind our back, people talk about our “problems” and the fact that very often we act like a jerk. What a conundrum. How can we find out when we are acting like jerks? (Ironically, only those people who aren’t jerks would care!)

Enter Emotional Intelligence (EI). The essence of EI is that people who have high levels of this trait have the ability to see themselves more accurately. These individuals have a special mirror that lets them view their own behaviors as others do. In other words, people with high Emotional Intelligence may act like jerks for some small percentage of the time, but they have the perception to know they are doing it. People with low EI have a huge blind spot and cannot detect when they are acting poorly.

This phenomenon is most easy to see in organizations at the leadership or management levels. Leaders with low Emotional Intelligence believe people are responding to them in a different way from what is actually happening – hence the blind spot. So, one cure for the conundrum is to get a higher level of Emotional Intelligence to eliminate the blind spot. Can you buy that stuff at a drug store? No! So how can you get higher EI?

In my leadership classes, students often ask if EI is basically inherited or if it can be learned. I say EI most definitely can be learned. Why? Well, because teaching EI is my occupation: I see significant results when helping leaders gain higher levels of Emotional Intelligence through training and coaching. One thing anyone can do is read about the science of Emotional Intelligence. Start with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Another highly effective way to gain EI is to obtain a great mentor who is really high on the scale of Emotional Intelligence and is willing to pass on to you what it means and how to interpret the signals coming to you from other people.

Higher EI would mean you become more adept at reading body language and become more openly curious about how people are really reacting to the things you say and do. It would mean building trusting relationships with many people who will do you the great kindness of telling you when you are acting like a jerk. The only way to get people to do that is to reward them when they are honest enough to reflect what you are really doing at any given moment (good or bad). These trusted friends can save you from having a blind spot about your own behavior, which automatically increases your EI. Collectively, they form the surface of the mirror that allows you to see yourself as others do. From that point on, you might still be a jerk for some part of the time, but at least you will know it.