Leadership Barometer 11 Demonstrate Integrity

August 5, 2019

One great measure of the quality of a leader is how much that person demonstrates integrity.

That is an easy thing to say, but it is a bit harder to accomplish. Let’s pick apart the concept of integrity and see if we can find some usable handles.

First of all, integrity is easy to demonstrate when things are going well or according to plan.  It is a simple matter of doing the right thing, and the right thing is obvious.

Integrity is most important when it is difficult to do or the right path is hard to define.  It is in these moments when leaders have the ability to stand tall and radiate their integrity or duck the issue and do what seems expedient at the moment.

I call these times “Leadership moments of truth.”

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 others the way 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.

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.

Leaders tend to rationalize.

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.

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 the time things surfaced, 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.

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 a whistle blower was considered good.

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.

If you doubt that whistle blowers are routinely punished, take the time to view this brief video by Bill Lloyd. He blew the whistle at his company and paid a heavy price for it.

Bill said, “Sometimes it’s going to hurt, but it says everything about who you are as a person.”

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. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.

Riddle About Perception

April 2, 2016

In one of my Transformational Leadership classes, an executive once told me, “I am the kind of person who does what he thinks is right.” I did a bit of a double take and swallowed hard to keep from insulting him by laughing out loud.

Later, when I had a chance to think about that statement, I tried to conjure up a situation where a person intentionally did what he or she thought was wrong at the time. It is hard to imagine.

I suppose if you are mentally ill, it might be possible to actually do what you believe is wrong, but I am not convinced of it. Reason: Whatever action you take at a particular time, you have rationalized it to be the best thing to do at that moment, otherwise you would do something else.

That is not to say that the rest of the world would agree with your logic, but at least you have that opinion at the instant you are taking action. Let’s take some extreme examples and pick them apart to see how the mind plays tricks on us.

We would all agree that what Bernie Madoff did in bilking thousands of investors out of billions of dollars was not the right thing to do. I am sure if you interviewed him in his cell today he would agree.

But, if you were to get inside his head while he was performing these illegal and deceptive transactions, I’ll bet he believed he was actually helping people (at least at the start). Once the Ponzi Scheme started to crumble, he was still doing what he thought was best, which was trying to protect his interests.

If he thought the best thing to do was to turn himself in, he would have done that. Let me be clear, he would have been aware he was breaking the law and hurting people in the end, but his actions at any moment were still “best” according to his twisted logic.

There is a whole class of people who have the objective to be disruptive to others even at the risk of their own longevity, but they have been brainwashed into believing the wrong acts are actually earning them a special place in another life.

How about Hitler. Surely he must have known that vaporizing millions of people in ethnic cleansing was wrong. Some history books indicate that was not the case. They point out that he was acting with the conviction that he was helping build a great society that would last forever.

My question is this. Do you think it is physically possible to do something that you believe at that instant is not the best thing to do, or is the existential act of performing a deed the definition of what a person feels is best at that instant, all things considered?

Note, I am not saying we believe it is the morally correct thing to do, just the best option available at the moment. In other words, even if we know it to be morally or ethically wrong, we have rationalized the circumstances so we believe it is the best thing we can do now.

This conundrum does not keep me awake at night, but I have puzzled over it many times. So, what is the remedy?  Get yourself a trusted friend and bounce ideas off that person, especially for the edgy decisions. At least you will have more than one brain working on the conundrum.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.