A strong theme emerges in Glassdoor’s recently released employee survey of the best places to work in 2017’ - employee trust in the organization’s leadership.
The top award in the UK went to Expedia for its dynamic environment and ‘amazing leaders, very accessible and communicating a lot with all employees’. The other top companies, including Unilever, Screwfix, and MottMacDonald, all received similar comments.
Leadership integrity is crucial for engaging people in their work. Without integrity, there can be little trust and without trust, there can be little engagement. Extensive research by both Gallup and Bersin by Deloitte demonstrates that non-engaged employees will perform to a mediocre level at best, while ‘actively disengaged’ employees will likely sabotage your business.
Employee engagement levels remain low at just 13% worldwide (Gallup, January 2016). This crisis presents a significant opportunity to increase productivity, not to mention people’s enjoyment and well-being at work.
Leaders who are trusted have an ability to motivate and inspire people to exercise discretionary effort, passion, commitment and agility, the building blocks for achieving phenomenal performance.
A Corporate Executive Board Survey (2011) on corporate integrity demonstrated the financial impact - ‘When companies were ranked by integrity, the top 25% outperformed the average, with the bottom 25% averaging a negative 7.4% 10-year shareholder return.’ Integrity matters!
These are the six factors that contribute to high-integrity leadership.
1) Consistency in all areas of life
‘The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.’ John Wooden
The word ‘integrity’ is drawn from the Latin ‘interger’, meaning ‘whole’ or ‘complete’. Leaders with high integrity don’t project a fake image of themselves. They live their values. They care about the same things when behind closed doors as when in front of other people. They may engage in different activities at home when compared to work, but they will approach these activities with the same character traits. If they play fair at work, they will also play fair outside of work.
Leaders with high integrity are keenly aware of and seek to remove inconsistencies in their messages and their actions. They rarely award themselves big bonuses whilst making people redundant, or commandeer the prime parking space when pressing their business to put customers first.
A leader with integrity will promote corporate social responsibility because they believe it’s the right thing to do, not just for the good PR. Consistency helps to build trust; trust builds followership; followership builds the business.
2) Proper Personal Perspective
‘Leadership is not a rank or a position. Leadership is a service to be given.’ Simon Sinek.
Leaders who are self-centered rarely engender trust. They believe that the world revolves around them. They treat other people and the environment as tools and resources to be used to serve their desires. It doesn’t take long for trust to break down and toxicity to take hold.
Leaders with high integrity take the opposite attitude. They have a keen sense that their personal resources should be employed in the service of others.
Other people are not resources to be used, but people to be served and developed. Their world revolves around others - they have a proper personal perspective. This takes empathy - the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes. A leader with integrity is always someone who seeks to understand what others feel and think first before passing judgment or making choices.
Leaders with a proper personal perspective share recognition for successes and take responsibility for mistakes. They foster teamwork, stretching the team towards higher targets rather than creating silos and encouraging in-house competition.
Leaders with integrity combat workplace politics through objective measurements of performance rather than through personality or coercion. These attitudes and behaviors create high levels of trust and performance.
3) Continuous Personal Growth
‘Once you stop learning, you start dying.’ Albert Einstein.
Leaders with high levels of integrity are in constant learning mode. They are ruthlessly honest with themselves, seeking guidance to discover and overcome their blind spots and always working to grow as leaders. They are not closed to new ideas and are instead open to new sources of information that help them to learn.
In a fast changing world, leaders cannot rely on static maps to manage complexity; successful leaders are secure enough in themselves to accept that the way that worked in the past might no longer be the way for the future. Being open to new ideas and personal critique helps to build a firmness of character that underpins decisions and actions.
In a world that’s overloaded with information, leaders must be able to filter out valuable information smartly. One highly effective way is to be connected to a wise network of trusted people that can help to share, sort and make sense of useful information. As part of our work with leaders, we are actively seeking to help our clients build trusting networks at a C-suite level, creating conditions of trust for knowledge sharing and support.
4) Keeping promises
‘We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot.’ Abraham Lincoln.
High-integrity leaders keep their promises. If they can’t meet the agreed-upon timeline, they will stay in communication with you until the promise has been kept. In keeping their promises, they gain trust from colleagues, clients, and all stakeholders as people who can be relied upon.
In today’s world, we are increasingly associating charisma and ‘drive’ as leadership qualities. Whilst these traits can be helpful, in our work it’s quite common for charismatic leaders to frequently let other people down - sometimes unknowingly to them. Even if this is with the best of intentions, overpromising and under-delivering will still leave people with a sense of disappointment.
High-integrity leaders will not over promise. They will pause and ensure that their commitments to others can be met. They will give clear and reasonable signals, whether about promotional opportunities, expected financial results or delivery of the primary strategic targets. They refuse to simply say what others want to hear to appease them, preferring difficult but truthful conversations. Their ethos to keep their promises pervades all their behavior, including getting to meetings on time.
5) Honesty and truth
‘Honesty is a very expensive gift. Don’t expect it from cheap people.’ Warren Buffett.
High-integrity leaders are honest. They deal with people and projects fairly and don’t create a smoke-screen image. They sell but don’t mis-sell. They direct, but don’t abuse people. They may challenge rules, but don’t break them. They speak honestly, but not rudely. They are honest because they care more about their personal integrity than how others might view them.
An environment of honesty and truth creates a high-performing culture. The CEB 2011 survey discovered that ‘In good companies, employees see few bad acts but are likely to report them.
In bad companies, employees often see bad acts, but stay silent.’
There have been a string of failures in recent years due to a lack of honesty. Volkswagen admitted that 11 million vehicles had been fitted with ‘defeat devices’ to cheat on emissions tests - lying about their emissions results. Bernie Madoff lied to the tune of an estimated US$64billion in what was one of the world’s biggest ponzi schemes. In the UK, politicians were found to have lied consistently about their expense claims. All of these and countless other examples of dishonest leaders have undermined trust in leadership, corporations, and institutions. Honesty - however difficult - is an essential element for trust to grow.
6) Doing the right thing, not just the easiest thing
‘Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.’ Mark Twain
High-integrity leaders have high ethical and moral principles. They have a keen sense of what’s right and wrong; you can depend on them to do the right thing for the right reasons, even if that’s not the easiest solution or the one that produces the most money in the short term. Leaders with integrity have high standards; for behavior, product and service quality.
Leaders who possess integrity know that each small decision between comfort and stretching for excellence accumulates for long-term loss or success. A decision in a particular moment to procrastinate over a project affects more than just that moment.
As well as ‘to do’ lists, leaders with integrity often have a ‘to stop’ list; actions and behaviors that they would like to stop doing.
This is not to say that tough choices are avoided - far from it. It is to say that tough choices are made well. Most people can handle a difficult situation if it is led and approached in a respectful, ‘right’, way. In our work with clients seeking to re-establish a trusting culture, it’s often the way that they were treated in the past that’s a hurdle, rather than the decision itself. Respect, excellent standards/outcomes, empathy and honesty are hallmarks of ‘doing the right thing’.
The great news is that integrity, like any skill, can be developed and enhanced, as long as the leader desires to grow. Our C-suite coaching, whether with individuals or teams, places a high value on enhancing the integrity, with outcomes including stronger business processes, more honest conversations, and client feedback that 'I am now far more able to be myself.' As leaders choose to grow in integrity, they are creating some of the best places to work in the country.