Integrity: Don’t Reach the Top Without It

Several things have happened this year in a short amount of time:

  • Nobody was elected into the baseball hall of fame, despite people like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro being eligible (and all of them linked to steroids).
  • Lance Armstrong finally admitted to cheating and using performance enhancing drugs.
  • Manti Te’o admitted that although he was never part of the hoax of a fake girlfriend, he did tailor the story a little to the media.

No matter what you read in newspapers, the internet or blogs, or what you heard on the television or radio, the common thread among all of these stories is integrity.

In this video blog, I preview a couple of the important findings of a white paper CCL just published called “The Irony of Integrity: A Study of Character Strengths of Leaders,” thoughts around why integrity is so important, and my hopes going forward in the future. I hope:

  • People at the tops of organizations embrace how important integrity is not just for them, but for the entire organization.
  • People start to be rewarded for the integrity they have. (For Dale Murphy and his chances of getting in to the Baseball Hall of Fame, his integrity was not enough, and it is a shame and disgrace).
  • People realize integrity is not just important for their work in organizations, but away from the office (think about the trouble a lack of integrity caused Tiger Woods, Bobby Petrino, and those in the Jerry Sandusky affair at Penn State).
Your turn: How has integrity (or a lack of it) influenced your career?  And how can we ensure that we are promoting leaders with integrity?



About Bill Gentry

William (Bill) is currently a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and also an adjunct assistant professor at several colleges and universities. In applying his research into practice, Bill’s current focus is on helping leaders who are managing for the first time in their life. His research interests are in multisource (360) research, survey development and analysis, leadership and leadership development across cultures, leader character and integrity, mentoring, managerial derailment, multilevel measurement, and in the area of organizational politics and political skill in the workplace. He received a BA from Emory University and an MS and PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the University of Georgia. Follow Bill on Twitter: Lead_Better
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7 Responses to Integrity: Don’t Reach the Top Without It

  1. avatar Analiese Brown says:

    These are great points. Integrity is a vital quality for effective leadership, and one that oftentimes goes overlooked.

    I think it’s important to acknowledge that breaches of integrity aren’t always as dramatic or scandalous as the examples we hear on the news. Integrity is found in the everyday details. Do you arrive on time to meetings or make people wait? Do you follow through on projects and meet deadlines? Do you communicate with all parties involved as soon as you realize there’s a problem? Do you keep your word by doing what you say you will do? Do you squash gossip among your employees or do you stir the pot? Do you manage your department’s budget effectively or look the other way? Do you take responsibility when something goes wrong or do you pass the blame to someone else? Do you hold your leadership team to the same standards you hold your entry-level employees? Taken individually, none of these things seem like huge issues and are unlikely to make the evening news, but I guarantee these are the things the people around you are noticing consciously or sub-consciously. These are the things that can earn you the respect – or the disdain – of the people you manage.

    Leaders who have integrity hold themselves to the highest standard, even with (and sometimes especially with) these mundane everyday details. These are the things that add up to form someone’s overall character. Sometimes there’s no dire consequence or PR scandal. And in fact, I would argue that integrity is whether you do the right thing when no one’s watching.

  2. Analiese, you make a wonderful point. Thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts. So many times, a huge act that is unethical or has no integrity is usually not the first and only time that person has done such a thing. If they are getting away with little things at the beginning, they’ll think they can keep on getting away with it, over and over, bigger and bigger. And just like you said, and we say in the white paper, and many others (like John Wooden who we quote), integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.

  3. avatar Doc Cutrer says:

    Young Dr. Gentry,

    Well done, my Friend. The sports theme hit home with me, of course, but your message transcends sports and you made your points very effectively. I shared some of your thoughts with my 6th graders this week and I was impressed with not only how much they knew about these current episodes, but with their almost universal understanding of ‘cheating.’ One lad expressed his disbelief that Armstrong had to ‘look up cheating in the dictionary.’ It is my hope that this very public display of integrity, or lack of it, will not be lost on them. Thanks, Billy, for the work you are doing – it is touching more lives than you might imagine. Be well, my Friend, Doc

  4. Doc, thanks for your insight. I am happy you are instilling a sense of integrity to young people, as they are very impressionable, and the lessons learned at an early age will hopefully stay with them throughout their life. And if they are faced with something that challenges their character later in life, I only hope they remember what you taught them in their adolescent years.

    The way Lance Armstrong talked about cheating, to “gain an advantage on a rival or foe” is totally different than what others may see as cheating, and the ways Merriam-Webster defines it – “to violate rules dishonestly”, which is what he did, or an even more deep meaning “to deprive of something valuable by the use of deceit or fraud” – how valuable was his own integrity and his own character, which is tarnished by his own deceit or fraud?

    Thanks for the comment Doc!

  5. avatar Bill Foster says:

    Dr. Gentry,

    Does a lack of integrity involve one’s elevated sense of entitlement? Here’s an example:

    A landing gear manufacturer was purchased in the summer of 2012 by a large, diverse firm with a substantial aircraft line of business. Initially the CEO of the landing gear firm was to have been made an E-VP in the parent company. Post-merger he was packaged out with a parachute of $35 million. Shortly thereafter the landing gear company (now a division of the conglomerate) was forced to layoff a significant number of people. As part of the merger, senior VPs in the landing gear division were given substantial bonuses – managers and line employees received new name badges.

    These incidents now represent the integrity example for the firm. Imagine sitting down at a team dinner this week with your senior VP, and as part of the conversation he says that he and his family were able to purchase a large parcel of land (for a summer home) with the bonus he received from the merger. No thought of the others in attendance who received nothing.

    Buyout for CEO, bonuses for senior VPs – sense of entitlement. Not pushing for everyone else to have a share – lack of integrity. How will the remainder of the landing gear business operate in the future?

  6. Bill F., I think you have brought up a great example of something that can happen every day. In my opinion, those with integrity walk the talk, and understand their actions impact many people beyond just themselves. Along with integrity, social intelligence is another character strength that our research showed was important for C-level execs and middle-level managers. Knowing the repercussions of actions, understanding your impact on others, that’s all part of character. Integrity, character of any kind, flows from the top-down, and bottom-up. The VPs need to understand how their words and actions impact others. It will be really hard to build a culture of integrity and character if you are not living it. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. avatar sacking says:

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