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

At Fierce, we define integrity as 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. 

While what it looks like to live with integrity may vary from one person to the next, there are clear behaviors that tend to be unanimous amongst the most "integrous" of us:

  • 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 all the people around them.

While it's easy to talk about integrity, at times, it can be 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 with 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. 

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. When you lead with integrity, the positive effects are felt by everyone around you.

In fact, 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 with integrity say they are unlikely to leave their current organization in the next five years.

It's clear, for those in a leadership role, that integrity is exceptionally important AND especially challenging. With your attention often split, demands flying at you from every direction, and pressure from others goading you to compromise your values or abandon things you care about...It can be overwhelming at times, and result in an integrity outage.

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 with 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? 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.

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It's important to pay close attention to your emotions. They offer big clues that can help you pinpoint if and where you have an outage.They 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.

As our CEO and Founder 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 leadership role? Ask yourself: What are your thoughts on integrity in the workplace? What role is it playing in your own 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? Take the time to connect and communicate with someone who's counting on you. It's never too late to honor your word and follow through.

2. Address your fears. Unchecked fear can prevent us from living with integrity. When 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 presents 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 success, and how can you begin to overcome them?

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. Talk about a win-win.

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

This blog was originally published on December 12, 2017 on the Fierce blog; last updated December 7, 2018.

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