It’s common for people to say that leaders must have integrity. We are quick to point out CEO’s or politicians who make ethical mistakes and talk about their lack of integrity. These are easy to point out. We also identify public figures who act in ways that demonstrate their honesty and integrity. Yet how easy is it to fall short of the ideal level of integrity?
There are some very subtle ways in which we may be acting which brings our integrity into question. We often don’t even realize that our actions are not aligned with our values. Unfortunately others will be watching what we do and compare it to what we say. Here are some simple things that can trip up even the most honest people.
- You say you hate gossip and actively discourage it; however you comment on a person who isn’t there at the time.
- You encourage and evaluate your team on personal development yet you never find the time to take a class yourself.
- Your company policy says that you will not accept gifts from vendors over a certain value but you allow a vendor to pay for you to play golf on a course whose fees are higher than the limit.
- You hold people accountable to deadlines yet you often miss deadlines of your own.
- You promise to give people honest feedback however you avoid the difficult conversations about performance because people will get upset.
- You promote teamwork and collaboration but you are normally too busy to pitch in when asked.
Some of these examples are more obvious than others. However, each one of these is an indication that you are not demonstrating the level of integrity that you may desire. There may be reasons why you do some of these things but if you are honest with yourself it becomes obvious you are not practicing what you preach. Even these small things can harm how others view you. If they see you ‘cheating’ on the small things it can create doubt on how you will behave on the big things.
There is a story about President Abraham Lincoln who is well known for his honesty. It demonstrates how keeping to your word may be uncomfortable in the moment but powerful over time.
While a member of Congress, Abraham Lincoln was once criticized by a friend for his seeming rudeness in declining to test the rare wines provided by their host.
The friend said to him: “There is certainly no danger of a man of your years and habits becoming addicted to the use of wine.”
“I mean no disrespect, John,” answered Lincoln, “but I promised my precious mother only a few days before she died that I would never use anything intoxicating as a beverage, and I consider that promise as binding today as it was the day I gave it.”
“But,” the friend continued, “there is a great difference between a child surrounded by a rough class of drinkers and a man in a home of refinement.”
“A promise is a promise forever,” answered Lincoln, “and when made to a mother, it is doubly binding.”
As you go about your day think about the choices you are making. Are your words and your actions perfectly aligned? Have you made allowances for falling short of keeping a promise or meeting a deadline? Integrity is something that everyone wants in their leaders and in their teammates. It can be hard to take the high road all the time and you run the risk of offending someone by sticking to your principles. Yet over time people will think more of us when we do. Leaders make hard choices all the time and this is one area that you completely control. Choose wisely.