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Integrity: What it means and why it matters in leadership

Everyone is notoriously ‘pro-integrity’, but does everyone practice integrity? “Do as I say, not as I do”, is how many leaders approach their leadership role, but still consider themselves leaders with integrity! This speaks to how lightly we take an issue of such high importance. Sometimes even some of the most well-intentioned leaders and organisations offer lip service and are not sincere in their explanations regarding integrity among their colleagues.

But what exactly is integrity and what does it entail? Why does it matter? It probably means different things to different people however, we agree, I hope, that it embodies that deep facet of being honest, trustworthy and reliable. People of integrity act in accordance with their words. They practice what they preach (they do not preach water and drink wine). They own up to their mistakes as opposed to hiding them. They don’t blame others or make excuses. They are straight-forward, always ensuring that their moral compass stays northward.

At an individual level we talk of a person being ethical, but integrity entails more than just ethics. It is all about the character, those innate characteristics that ‘shout’ about who you are: consistency, compassion, honesty and ethics. Integrity is deep! What you see in a person is what you get. It involves living from the inner sanctum of the soul.

Integrity is the foundation of leadership and it involves a careful balance between respect and responsibility. Without integrity, no leader can be successful. Leaders with integrity do not twist facts for personal advantage. They are willing to stand up for and defend what is right. They will be careful to keep promises and can always be counted on to tell the truth. In the workplace those who bend rules are not considered trustworthy and without trust an individual’s value is severely diminished, a major reason as to why we should ponder the crucial concept for understanding integrity and trust in the professional success of an individual.

A leader who genuinely professes integrity effectively strengthens personal effectiveness, corporate loyalty and ethical behaviour. Organisations that have embedded a culture of integrity foster teamwork, corporate pride and consensus while also supporting work-life balance as they reduce job stress, balance individual’s perspectives and contribute to job satisfaction. They further bolster confidence with suppliers, partners and customers because their openness and transparency mean that the relationship with their stakeholders is predictable, reliable and consistent in meeting the needs of their requirements. Such organisations are characterised as collaborative, constructive, innovative and transparent with high value for customer loyalty and strong partnerships. Such companies tend to have governance systems with higher external ratings and higher quality of earnings. They are good places to work, competitive in their markets and provide higher, more predictable return to investors. They exhibit a trust which has favorable impact on the economics of their relationships.

It, therefore, behoves on us as leaders to determine what integrity should look like in our organisations, emphasise and highlight it at every turn, model and then actively, visibly reinforce integrity for everyone in the organisation because ‘the tone at the top’ is always critical. We should realise that our words, actions, decisions and methodologies help to create a company’s true values and its culture. In any case, followers determine how trustworthy a leader is based on their ability, altruism and integrity.

Because leaders are the most visible individuals in an organisation, they have the potential to cause the most reputational damage and since at the end of the day they will be judged on character, competence and integrity, it’s crucial for them to instil and support compliance, accountability, ethical behaviour and integrity in their organisations.

By Mark Ocitti

Source: The Citizen