Leading and Living with Integrity

By Mike Camp, Contributor, Human Resources IQ

Someone can easily say they are “leading with integrity,” but the challenge lies in actually following through.  The majority of us have had importance of being honest instilled since we were children. Unfortunately, some people struggle more than others to live with and exhibit integrity, no matter how many times they hear it.

But what does “integrity” actually mean?  Most of us could easily define the word and have a pretty good idea of what that really looks like— or could we?

Integrity is not a characteristic you can demonstrate sometimes, or even 99 percent of the time.  Leading with integrity means demonstrating it all of the time!  Integrity can be defined most simply as “being honest” or “following moral and ethical principles.”  Integrity has also been defined as being when “a person’s behavior is the same, whether someone is watching them or not.”  I like to consider integrity to be like an eggshell that must be protected at all times in order to keep the egg (or your integrity) whole.  Once an eggshell has even a slight crack, the structure can no longer be depended on to handle the pressure of the environment.  It is simply a matter of time before the egg is completely compromised.  A leader’s integrity (or eggshell) is the exact same thing:  a leader can do the right thing 100 times, but if on the 101sttime they choose to deviate, their integrity comes under scrutiny from those around them.  Even though we may live a life of integrity throughout the first 100 situations, if we choose to act incorrectly the 101sttime, the way people perceive us can change forever.

If we want people to follow our lead, there must be a strong level of trust.  Keeping your word and living with integrity are two critical pieces to this process. Trust is not something built overnight; however, it can be lost instantly.  The easiest way to come across as not being honest is to say one thing, but do something completely different.  When people choose to follow us, they need to know the words we speak are genuine and that we will not deviate from what we said we would do.

Some people believe if they always handle the big issues with integrity, the little issues don’t always need to be handled the same way—especially if no one will know the difference.  This couldn’t be any farther from the truth.  A person who leads with integrity will always keep their integrity untarnished and will not waver, regardless of the size of the issue at hand or whether or not people will ever know what they did.

There is nothing worse than listening to someone speak about what they plan to do when we know their actions will not match what they said.  This type of dishonest behavior is what usually creates the first crack in what I call the “Trust Foundation” that the leader – follower relationship is based on.  As a leader today, the challenge is for us to live the true lifestyle of a leader with integrity at work and outside of work.  When people see us acting differently in public than we act in the workplace, our genuineness becomes questionable, as does our integrity.  Show the people who choose to follow you what kind of leader you are by keeping your word and always living with integrity.

Take the “Leading and Living with Integrity” pledge with me…

“This year I will commit to doing whatever it takes to:

Become a leader trusted by my co-workers, my family, my community,

Demonstrate outstanding servant leadership,

As I lead and live with integrity to build trust with those whose lives I influence.”