The Importance of Personal Integrity in Leadership: 4 Ways to Follow Through

"The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home." –Confucius

We live in a world where our attention is often split and demands fly at us from every direction. Sometimes you may even be asked to compromise your values or abandon things you care about. Having integrity in such a world is especially challenging, yet exceptionally important for leaders.

Integrity is invisible and conceptual, yet it's responsible for a large majority of inspired actions and positive results.

Simply defined, integrity is when your inner world—your truth, your beliefs, your ethics, your commitments, your values, and your desires—align with your actions and behaviors in the outer world. Having integrity entails being a person of your word. Integrity is deep, and some would say it involves living from the soul.

What it looks like to live in integrity may vary from person to person, but there are some behaviors that tend to be unanimous amongst "integrous" leaders:

  • They acknowledge the accomplishments of others (and don't take credit for others' work).
  • They communicate honestly, and aren't afraid to "get real."
  • They believe in what they do.
  • They follow through and keep their word.
  • They show empathy and compassion towards the people around them.

Leaders with integrity bring all of who they are to their work, and the positive effects are felt by everyone around them.

Integrity in leadership also makes a big impact on an organization's culture. The Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust in business is built through specific attributes, which can be organized into five performance clusters: integrity, engagement, products and services, purpose and operations. Of these clusters, the Trust Barometer reveals that integrity is most important. Engagement increases when there is integrity, and according to the work of Dr. Brad Shuck, an engagement researcher, retention improves: 75% of employees who work for leaders who are compassionate and live in their integrity say they are unlikely to leave their current organization in the next five years.

It's easy to talk about integrity, but it's a lot harder to "follow through." Why is that? One reason is that sometimes, one part of us seems to be in direct contradiction with another part or parts, causing confusion within us.

In a Psychology Today article titled How and Why You Compromise Your Integrity, Dr. Leon Seltzer makes the claim that living in integrity is directly correlated to an individual's ability to "integrate" parts of themselves. Seltzer refers to the work of Dr. Richard Schwartz to explain what it's like when these parts aren't working together: "It's like having an orchestra inside you, whose members aren't playing as a cohesive, coordinated unit. The effect is hardly anything like melodic music. What's produced is a bumbling, incoherent cacophony. For the conductor, or orchestra's 'leader'—which Schwartz defines, transcendentally and idealistically, as the beyond-ego Self—is absent, missing in action." In other words, it's an individual's inner leader that allows them to bring all of their inner parts together and work in harmony. Schwartz claimed that an integrated Self is defined by the 8 C's: calmness, curiosity, compassion, connectedness, confidence, creativity, courage, and clarity.

What could be more powerful for a leader than to be in touch with their Self, their inner leader? It is no doubt a key factor in strong leadership.

Integrity outages can have a number of causes, including everything from unresolved emotional issues to having exhaustively busy schedules. If you're moving too quickly to stop and smell the roses, it's unlikely that you'll notice when your actions are not aligned with who you are. And if you're going to live with integrity, you have to take the time to know who you are.

If you're having an integrity outage, your teammates and colleagues will notice. It will either impact them directly due to your behavior, or they will simply notice that you "don't seem like yourself." And, as a leader, part of your role is to assure your teammates are able to stand fully in their own individual integrity. You can't fully be in your supportive leadership role if there is an outage in your integrity.

So what are the signs? If you're out of integrity, you might feel:

  • Drained and tired.
  • Guilty or worried.
  • Like something is "off."
  • Creatively hindered.
  • Like you wish something was "different."
  • Like you have something to hide.
  • Disconnected from the people around you.

Pay close attention to your emotions. They offer big clues that can help you pinpoint if and where you have an outage.

As Susan Scott says, "All conversations are with myself, and sometimes they involve other people." Are you checking in with yourself and bringing all of who you are to your life? 

Here are some ways to assure you're in line with your own integrity:

1. Check in with your commitments. Look back over the course of this year. Have you made any promises recently? Have you started something you have yet to finish? Have you strayed from a goal? Communicate with someone who's counting on you. Knock off the dust. It's not too late to honor your word and follow through.

2. Check your fears. Unchecked fear can prevent us from living in our integrity. Where around you do you feel afraid to speak up? Where are you avoiding, rather than facing, the problems around you? Have you wrongly convinced yourself that something you want is impossible when it's actually within reach? If you're selling yourself short or doubting your own abilities, there's likely an integrity outage at play.

3. What conversations are missing? Check in with your emotions. Do you have any feelings of guilt lingering after a conversation? Is there anyone you need to patch things up with? Is something bothering you that you haven't addressed? Set your intentions, and move forward with the conversation(s) you need to have with anyone who may have been impacted by your behavior.

4. Keep a journal. This will allow you to reflect each day on what's working and what isn't. Journaling also present the opportunity to go deeper and explore important questions--What have you always cared about? What do you value most? What really drives you? What do you want most for yourself and the people around you? What are your barriers to accomplishment, and how can you begin to overcome them?

Living with integrity is what changes the world for the better, and it's what carries out your company mission. It allows people to follow their passions, become involved in issues they really care about, and successfully solve problems.

If an organization wants to support its employees in a way that will allow them to live their own integrity, it's essential to create a culture of collaboration and inclusion where various perspectives are sought out and encouraged. The result? Not only does it lead to more engagement and happier employees, but it also leads to more innovation and better ideas. It's a win-win.

What are your thoughts on integrity in the workplace? What role is it playing in your own life? 

For actionable ways to create a more inclusive culture, download our whitepaper on maximizing innovation here. 

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