Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Leadership Thesis: Integrity

Coutesy of Merriam-Webster Online at

Main Entry: in·teg·ri·ty
Pronunciation: in-'te-gr&-tE
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English integrite, from Middle French & Latin; Middle
French integrité, from Latin integritat-, integritas, from integr-, integer
1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values :
2 : an unimpaired condition : SOUNDNESS
3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided :
synonym see HONESTY

While there are many attributes needed to be a good leader, I think integrity is one of the most important attributes in both strategic and tactical areas of leadership. We don't just want leaders who say what they will do, we also want leaders who will do what they say. Integrity is basically doing what you say should be done, when it comes down to it. You need to follow the standards and values that you promote. Otherwise you are two-faced and that can be detrimental for several reasons.

Integrity makes it possible for people to trust their leaders to have sound vision, make good long-term decisions, and care about the interests of all stakeholders. Meanwhile, leaders without integrity offer empty promises without proper execution, make selfish decisions that benefit only themselves, and care not for the short-term and long-term interests of other stakeholders.

Harry Stonecipher, former CEO of Boeing, is a good case study in this regard. The man came out of retirement in order to guide Boeing away from a defense contract scandal; Boeing was in rough water at the time. He is an extremely competent CEO and as of today, Boeing's stock is trading near a 52-week high. Boeing was able to leave the defence contract scandal behind under his leadership and tackle more pressing competitive threats. However, today Stonecipher was fired for breaking his own code of conduct within the corporation: he was having an affair with a female executive.
"Harry was really the staunchest supporter of the code of conduct," Platt said. "He drew a very bright line for all employees, let everyone know that even minor violations would not be tolerated and when [he] does that you have to live by thatstandard."
Stonecipher's ability to successfully operate Boeing was undeniable. His track record speaks for itself, and it was the reason why he was brought back to Boeing. However, the Chairman of the Board noted that Stonecipher's decisions "reflected poorly on Harry's judgement and would impair his ability to lead the company going forward." This poor judgement in the affair in turn allowed some things to happen that were not in the best interests of the company, the details of which have not yet been made public. However, the public disgrace of a CEO committing adultery (yes, he's married) with another person within the company's ranks already defies the company's interests enough.

The most important thing about a leader with integrity is that you can believe that the leader will look after your interests and the interests of all other stakeholders. If you're willing to lie, cheat, or act unethically in other ways, you manifest a lack of integrity that begs this question: if they're willing to act unethically to get things done, how do I know that they're not willing to act unethically for selfish motives? This is what happened with the accounting scandals at Enron, WorldCom, the sponsorship scandal with the PWGSC, and countless other examples. Leaders acted deceptively to gain an end that they would not otherwise be able to gain.

As soon as a culture that lacks integrity is created and endorsed, it's extremely easy to utilize that culture for one's own gains and ignore the interests of stakeholders. This is why we need integrity at the foundation of leadership and the foundation of individual decisions. And we need to stop the corruption of integrity at the root of the problem. I can applaud Harvard Business School for denying admission to 119 applicants that hacked into the admission system.
''Our mission is to educate principled leaders who make a difference in the world," Clark said in yesterday's Harvard statement. ''To achieve that, a person must have many skills and qualities, including the highest standards of integrity, sound judgment, and a strong moral compass -- an intuitive sense of what is right and wrong. Those who have hacked into this website have failed topass that test."
Leaders with integrity are able to ignore and avoid the temptation to act selfishly in all situations, whether the decision has small or large implications. Dropping that standard to fulfill an organization's interests in the short run creates the epidemic culture that will destroy the same organization in the long run because leaders will no longer need to answer to the organization.

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