Integrity Takes Courage

Integrity takes courage and it is totally transparent. When you see and hear it, you know it.

At a recent session at the Simon Business School of the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY, integrity was examined in the context of growing high performing cultures. The graduate level students were passionate about the subject.

Integrity is the glue that holds it all together – it is an essential ingredient for teamwork and effective communication. Without it, there can be no empowerment and team members feel betrayed and disrespected. When confronted with a culture without integrity, good people will vote with their feet.

To make matters worse, according to Charles Spurgeon of the British clergy, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is just putting on its shoes”. It’s impossible to outrun a lie.

Winston Churchill said it best, putting it all into perspective by declaring “truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is”.

As we discussed integrity at the Simon Business School, the group focused on two key aspects of integrity.

One, an effective leader follows through by doing what he or she says will be done. Too many leaders get this wrong with promises and statements that ring hollow. They promise what they think others want to hear. Alternatively, when one habitually does what he or she says will be done, respect is manifested. This requires that the leader reflect on what is about to be promised or declared. If it can’t be done, don’t say it. Commitments matter.

Two, an effective leader makes decisions grounded in absolute integrity. This kind of leader is honest with team members, customers, and suppliers. Leaders “walk the talk” and consistently “do the harder right rather than the easier wrong”. One doesn’t compromise integrity under any circumstances to meet a short term operational or financial goal. You can bet that integrity speaks volumes to team members.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer captured the essence of integrity. “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident”. As a leader, where do you come down on integrity? Do you have the courage to speak the truth? Do you only promise what you know you and your team can deliver? Do you retain the moral high ground despite your own ambitions and goals? Do your teammates respect you? Rest assured the people around you already know the answers to these questions.

Integrity is indeed the glue that holds it all together. How do you handle your business decisions and personal relationships? Just as you expect truth from your doctor, your teammates expect the same from you. With truth comes vulnerability, but this is the fertile ground of trust and empowerment. Your business and relationships will grow and strengthen.

Without integrity, there can be no empowerment. Perhaps most dramatically, everyone knows integrity when they see it. Integrity takes courage.