Integrity remains one of the top leadership attributes | Daily News


Leading your flock into greener pastures – Part 04

Integrity remains one of the top leadership attributes

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in a corporate office.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower

A lot has changed since Eisenhower marched first into war and then into the White House. But time has not diminished the importance of integrity as a leadership trait.

Why is integrity such an important leadership trait? Essentially, people want to work for those who are ethical. They know that if their leader acts with integrity, that leader will treat them right and do what’s best for the business.

In fact, leaders with integrity actually strengthen any business. Companies with strong, ethical management teams enhance their ability to attract investors, customers and talented professionals.So, leaders need to realize that their words, actions, decisions and methodologies help to create the company’s true values and its culture.

Followers determine how trustworthy a leader is based on their ability, their kindness and their integrity. The followers are willing to be vulnerable in a good way to leaders they trust, and are more inclined to be satisfied with and committed to them.

The link between integrity and trust cannot be overestimated in the leader-employee relationship. At the end of the day,leaders are judged on character and competence. Character includes integrity and signals if the leader is friend or foe.

When employees believe their leader has integrity, they associate this trait with kindness and having good intentions as opposed to selfish motives. Competence then signals if the leader has the ability to act on his character. A leader who has integrity and competence is a very valuable asset to organizations, and over time tends to be more effective that a leader who lacks these two traits.

Why leaders must lead

When executive leaders determine what integrity looks like in their organization, they need to emphasize and highlight it at every turn. Leaders need to model and then actively, visibly, reinforce integrity for everyone in the organization – and this is true for executive leaders and leaders at every level of the organization. Regardless of job description or title, every leader must be responsible for modelling integrity.

However, since executive leaders are the most visible members of the organization, and since they have the potential to cause the most reputational damage, it’s crucial for them to support compliance, accountability and ethical behaviour.

Practical ways leaders can develop/display integrity

Lead with integrity

You can demonstrate you are trustworthy as a leader by keeping your word with your employees. Let them see your integrity. Say what you’ll do, and then do what you say. Show them you are leading in alignment with the values of the organization. Reward others who act with integrity. Give trust and ask for their trust in return. Be trustworthy and honourable, and communicate that you expect the same.

Remember - employee trust must be earned

There are many things that leaders can do to establish trust with their employees, which include being open and honest about changes that will impact them; effectively communicating by talking to them, not at them; having an open-door policy, and then following up; and being willing to pitch in to help. Sometimes the smallest gesture of kindness goes a long way, such as taking them to lunch once in way.

Tell them you are a person first

Depending on the industry, and probably company, you may be compared or labelled as type of a “manager,” like General Manager, Product Manager, HR Manager etc. Let your people know that you are a person first and a manager second.

These are all leaders. Act accordingly. Focus on the human being that is in front of you, get to know them and look for opportunities to say “yes” to them more often.

Ask your employees what’s most important to them

Actually, this is the most overlooked strategy for building trusting relationships but it is the simplest. Ask! Inquire what is most important to your employees for building trust, ask how they prefer to be recognized, find out how they like to receive feedback and prefer to communicate. Acknowledging and acting upon their preferences will build trust.

Listen effectively

Leaders establish trust by asking effective questions, then by actually listening to employees’ answers. The technique of “drilling” down with questions can take a surface-level conversation to a meaningful dialogue. Following up with action in a manner that supports employees’ ideas and concerns reinforces that the leader listened.

Save surprises for birthdays only

Employees typically do not like surprise reviews, news or anything serious in nature from leaders. Leaders can build trust with employees with regular communication, scheduled updates regarding work performance, and by being transparent about the health of the organization. When an employee knows they can rely on their leader for the truth, it can be motivating and help build trust.

Offer your own trust first

As Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them first.” If you want your employees to trust you, try trusting them first. Give them a task, even an easy one, and let them complete it on their own. This simple gesture will go a very long way. If your employees believe you will have their back, they will run through walls for you.

Be respectful to each other

The simplest path to increased trust is respect. It’s respectful recognition of accomplishments and transparency around failure. It’s connection between leaders and teams. It doesn’t cost anything to buy - but each side needs to make time for it. Practicing daily respect habits like “listen and care, make eye contact, and acknowledge your flaws” will drive engagement, and ultimately performance.

Show them you aren’t afraid of failure

Every employee is a threat to an insecure leader. Any mistake or struggle in performance will make the leader look bad, so every employee is seen as a threat. This drives selfish, bad behaviour and creates an unsafe place for the team. Trust only happens in a fear-free environment. Every leader needs to work on their own fear issues, so they can focus on building the team instead of their ego.

Let them manage some tasks on their own

Offer freedom by no longer micromanaging them. Provide the opportunity to manage their own activities. Allow them to lead the end of month performance review sessions, and ask them to evaluate themselves and modify their KPIs. This behaviour creates leaders within your organization organically and develops a sense of personal accountability, which results in a relationship of trust.

Build people up in any situation

Your team members’ personal lives matter, and bad times at home can often affect performance at work. Effective leaders prioritize taking a genuine interest in their employees and providing support during rough patches. In the same way, when times are good, leaders should celebrate victories with the whole team. Build people up in any situation and you’ll foster a deep level of trust.

Be inquisitive

Whom do you trust? Typically, it’s someone who allows you to be you and who encourages you to continuously grow, learn - usually by making mistakes - and develop. So be inquisitive and ask lots and lots of questions rather than supplying answers, even -especially -when you know the answer.

Walk the talk

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are entering a business world where ethics, values and integrity are priorities for customers and employees alike. For any business to compete, the values statement which had been written and tossed in a drawer is having to be pulled out, the dust blown off and implemented in a more meaningful and practical way.

Of course, it all starts with the leader and if the leader can’t walk the talk on values and ethics, then it matters not what the rest of the team are doing, because it is the leader who sets the tone.

It takeslot of time, maybe years. to build a reputation of integrity in leadership, but if you have that, it is truly one of the pinnacles of your achievement in life. You may not get a reward on stage for it, but you will be rewarded with true friends, business partners, colleagues and people who trust you and can be trusted.

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 35 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and a writer.)

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