Would You Pass The Integrity Test?

By David Mason


By “Cameron Leadership Damaged as Murdoch Inquiry Weakens Faith”

“Powerful bankers defend their industry at annual Davos symposium”

“Fake figures put trust in NHS waiting times at risk”

…and so it goes on. It seems that headlines like these are becoming all too familiar and appearing all too often.

Now, even allowing for the newspapers’ fondness for a good story, the question this raises for me is just what (or, more precisely, who) can we trust nowadays? And what is trust anyway?

During all three of the scenarios referenced by these headlines somebody, somewhere, was ‘economical’ with the truth. People need, and want, to be able to trust their leaders and this means trusting that they have the integrity to do, and say, ‘the right thing’. In fact, so important is the integrity element as part of a leader’s DNA that, in my view, it forms one of the three essential elements of any leader’s job description.

Forget the technical side of the role – mastery of that part is a given for successful leaders. Let’s imagine that for every leadership role in the world there could be only one job description. It might read something like this:

Your role is to do three things to the very best of your ability:

  1. Increase (insert whatever is appropriate, for example: sales, customer satisfaction, efficiency)
  2. Decrease (again, insert what works best, for example: waste, patient waiting time, abandoned calls)
  3. Do all of the above with integrity

Most leaders are great at the first two. It’s getting them to act with integrity that can be the problem. The first two are trainable, developable – measurable.

However, how can we measure integrity? And is the only time we realise that someone doesn’t have it when it’s too late?

To help leaders with this difficult issue I often try to describe to them what I mean by integrity. Here’s one possible definition: “Integrity is about what people do (or say) when they think nobody is watching (or listening).”

Is it fair to assume, therefore, that the leaders involved in the three headlines above said to themselves, at sometime, something like: “I know this isn’t right but we’re  going to have to say…”? If they did, it’s also probably fair to say that it was almost certainly only within earshot of someone else who was ‘on-side’ (for which, could we read ‘just as lacking in integrity’?).

So, my question is this. As a leader, what do you do to demonstrate your integrity? How authentic are you in what you do and what you say? Would you really pass the ‘when-nobody-is-looking’ test? And if a definition of ‘authentic’ would be helpful, try this: Worthy of trust, reliance or belief. – which, I think, is where we came in.

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