Are you a Trusted Leader?

Emerson said, “Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man. Their character determines the character of the organization.” (today we would say “person” instead of man but the point remains the same) 

 

So how would you answer the following two questions? Are you the person in your organization that Emerson was talking about? If you are then is your integrity always above reproach? By the way, I should probably point out that you either have integrity all the time or you don’t have integrity at any time. Integrity is not a part time job.

     

If your integrity is indeed above reproach then you have the opportunity to lead others, really lead. Maybe before you answer those two questions you should consider a little research: Only 45% of 400 managers in a Carnegie-Mellon survey believed their top management was always truthful; a third distrusted their immediate bosses. Current research says that 85% of employees across all businesses and industries are actually demotivated by their “leader.” 

 

What does that survey have to do with you?  Maybe nothing, but maybe, just maybe, you could consider it a wake-up call. A call telling you that you must be especially diligent in making certain that you live by the high standards that you expect from those who you hope to lead. Perhaps the survey results can serve to remind you that you have to work every day to earn the trust and respect of your people. You should never lose awareness that your people are always watching to see if your words match your actions. 

     

Consider as well this fact: Integrity results in a solid reputation, not just an image! Before you answer the questions above, ask yourself these questions: Are you the same person no matter who you are with? Do you make decisions that are best for others when another choice would benefit you? Are you quick to recognize others for their efforts and contributions to your success? (In writing?) 

     

You see, image is what people think you are, integrity is what, and who, you really are. Asking yourself these three questions can help keep you on track and ensure that your image reflects who you truly are.

     

Here is one reason integrity is so important for a leader: Integrity has high influence value, if you have the ability to influence others than your ability to lead is unlimited. Integrity helps a leader be credible, not just clever. Effective leadership is not based on being clever; it is based on being consistent. No one can fool all of the people of all of the time, insincerity can’t be covered up. Leaders who are sincere don’t have to advertise the fact.

   

Integrity is a hard-won achievement, it takes a long time to establish it with your team and you never fully complete the task. Your team expects four things from you on a consistent basis: honesty, competence, vision and inspiration. Those areas all impact your integrity. 

     

Ask something who knows you well what areas of your life they see as consistent (you do what you say) and what areas they see as inconsistent (you say but don’t always live.) If you don’t like their answer remember, you can change, you can become the leader you want to be, but also remember, you will only become what you are becoming right now.

    

So, now it’s time. Go ahead, answer the two questions in the first paragraph and then do whatever it takes to be certain your answer is always, always, yes.

One Question, Three Answers

Over the weekend I had a reader of this blog ask me a question. It was one question that asked if I could share three qualities that make a leader successful. I did not respond immediately because I wanted to put some real thought into my answer. I answered his question later in the day but I didn’t stop thinking about my answer. 

Hence this blog post.

The three qualities cited in my answer were integrity, a caring nature, and good judgment. Some people will automatically assume that I believe those three qualities should be “ranked” in that order. The fact is that they don’t have to be ranked at all because they are intrinsically linked. 

Let me explain.

In many cases the lack of integrity comes directly as a result of poor judgment. Someone in a leadership position does something that they expect will turn out well but when it doesn’t they lie to hide their poor judgment. 

Lying destroys credibility. Not sometimes, not usually, lying ALWAYS destroys credibility. Even lying that comes about as a result of poor judgment destroys credibility. The bigger the lie the greater the destruction.

Liars don’t lead, they manipulate, they coerce, they maneuver, they twist and turn, and they disguise. They can even sometimes project the appearance of success but they do not lead, they never never lead. Some people in leadership positions who lack integrity believe that they can force people to follow them…that is the ultimate in poor judgment. 

They may trick people, they may force some level of compliance out of people for their personal gain and to some that may even look like progress but none of it is leading. Leading requires at least a minimal level of commitment on the part of at least a few followers. People cannot commit to people that they do not trust. 

Wondering which comes first, lack of integrity or poor judgment, is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. The reality is it doesn’t matter, both the lack of integrity and poor judgment are killers of leadership potential. 

Whether or not to maintain your integrity is of course the ultimate decision that someone in a leadership position must make. Their judgment when making that decision will determine whether or not they truly have an opportunity to be an authentic servant leader. All leaders should know this simply fact: no one can steal your integrity, you can only give it away.

People without integrity AND good judgment might have a leadership position, but that doesn’t mean they are leading.

Which brings us to a caring nature. Leadership is about people and only people. You manage stuff, budgets, plans, and processes but NOT people. People cannot and should not be managed, they must be led.

If you don’t care about people you simply will not make them the priority that they need to be in order to lead them. When you truly care about someone they can see it in your actions and hear it in your words. They will know you care.

When you don’t actually care they will figure that out too. When your people know that you don’t care they will quickly determine that your motives are all about you. They will feel used. This happens even faster when they sense a lack of integrity because when they don’t trust you, they doubt your motives from the very start.

Caring for others is a choice. It’s a choice you must make before you choose to lead. Lying to someone for your own benefit shows not only a lack of integrity, it shows a tremendous lack of caring. 

As a leader your success is completely dependent on the success of your people. Not caring for or about those people shows terribly poor judgment. 

So what’s more important, integrity, caring or judgment? I’d say it’s irrelevant because having two without the third still makes it very challenging to lead.

 

An Epic Failure of Leadership

We have been presented with two options to choose from. Either the executive team at Wells Fargo is as corrupt as an executive team can be or they are the dumbest group of people ever to run any organization. 

5300 Wells Fargo employees were terminated last week for creating millions of fraudulent accounts to meet what has been described as nearly unbearable pressure and demands to add new customer accounts. Progress at some branches was reviewed as many as 4 times a day. The pressure was relentless. 

Nothing, not morales, not ethics, not even those little things called laws could slow down the relentless push to meet the Wells Fargo corporate initiative known as “Gr-eight Initiative.” Wells Fargo has a goal that every customer should have eight separate accounts with the bank.

Apparently goals are more important than anything at Wells Fargo. In order to meet the goals of the initiative employees opened new accounts for current customers without the customer’s approval or knowledge. This required forging signatures, creating fake email accounts, and moving customer’s money between these accounts without their knowledge, sometimes causing a customer’s real account to go into the red.

Here’s the most amazing part of all this to me; not one senior level manager or executive had a clue any of this was happening for the last 5 years. Of the 5300 employees terminated ALL were front line employees. Not a single manager had even a microcosm of responsibility for any of this. 

That couldn’t be harder to believe if Hillary Clinton said it.

There is clearly a culture at Wells Fargo that says anything goes. The culture doesn’t even pretend to care about ethics. Apparently the culture not only condones the breaking of laws, it encourages it. 

No matter what else may or may not be true about the goings on at Wells Fargo this much is certain: an organization’s culture comes from the top. 

What happened over the last five years at Wells Fargo is bad, what’s happening today is even worse. If nothing changes with the management at that bank then nothing changes at that bank. 

Is there even one responsible person in a position of authority at that organization? Is there even one person in a leadership position at Wells Fargo with enough courage to say “it’s on me”?

Wells Fargo paid a fine “for the actions of their employees.” What about the actions, or at the very least, the inaction of their leaders? There has been an epic failure of leadership at that bank. 5300 employees didn’t undertake that level of deceit all on their own, it’s time for the people who drove that behavior to step up.

Our lesson here is twofold: when integrity goes out the window everything else is welcome in and absent integrity from those in top leadership positions there is no motivation for anyone else to lead either.

 

What is This Integrity Thing?

Honesty. Credibility. Integrity. Many so called experts seem to think they are all basically the same thing. A horse a piece. Six of one, half dozen of the other. Apples to apples. No difference at all. 

I disagree. 

Integrity is deeply personal, it is who you are, inside. 

If matching your words and actions lead to credibility, as I believe they do, then integrity is when your words and actions BOTH match your deepest held beliefs. ALWAYS!

You see, you either have integrity all the time or you don’t have integrity at all. I completely understand that by that definition very few people truly have integrity. I also understand that I am NOT among those few. 

I’m a work in progress… deal with it.

I’m not writing this post to admit to or announce my shortcomings. Those who know me best are fully aware of my foibles of which there are many. 

I’m writing this so that whoever reads it can understand that they too are a work in progress and that it’s okay. While it doesn’t make you perfect it does make you human and that’s a good thing. There is no need to pretend that you are perfect, in fact, pretending that you are actually subtracts from your integrity.

 As I plan some personal goals for 2016 I’m going to work hard to see everyone else as the same work in progress that I am. I’m going to assume that they also want to be better and I’m going to cut them a whole lot more slack than I have in the past. I’ll bet I will be happier then when I hold others to standards that I can’t meet.

Never use the fact that you don’t have integrity all the time as an excuse for not having integrity at all. Fight to be the person you would admire, the person you can admire in every circumstance. You will fall short at times but don’t use that as an excuse for not trying. 

You and I may not have integrity according to my very tough definition but that doesn’t mean we can’t come closer to it than most. Do what you truly believe to be right, live your values, makes the tough, often less fun choices and you’ll be on your way to being the person you truly want to be.

Does Deceit Show Poor Judgment?

I go back and forth on the most important characteristic for leadership. Sometimes I know it is good judgment. Other times I’m just as certain it’s integrity.

I understand that both are vital but if one of them must be first then which one is it?

Someone recently asked me a question that causes me to think that one of those characteristics, or rather, the lack of one of those characteristics, proves the other is missing too.

The question was this: Which causes the failure of more leaders, mistakes of judgment or the deceptiveness of the leader?

I can certainly think of many leadership failures caused by poor judgment. Those judgment errors have resulted in interminable calamities, both for the leader and their organizations. But if we’re talking about just the pure number of leadership failures then you would have to say more are caused, perhaps far more, by the leader’s deceptiveness.

When you actually stop to think about it most of the deceptions and lies put forth by a failed leader where to cover up some other episode of poor judgment. The problem is the deception most often is worse than the original poor judgment.

If the leader would have just stepped up and admitted to the poor judgment they likely, or at least possibly, could have survived the situation. The original poor judgment, when compounded with the attempt to deceive will almost certainly lead to the downfall of the leader.

That being the case it seems clear to me that lack of integrity causes more leadership failures. It also likely causes more problems for the organization of the deceptive leader.

But then again, if the leader had great judgment they might not have any reason to deceive.

This seems a bit like the “chicken or the egg” question. So what say you?

People Really Do Follow the Leader

Follow the leader isn’t just a children’s game. It’s a fact of life.

People really do follow the leader. They do what the leader does. They behave as the leader behaves. They act the way the leader acts.

They don’t very often do what the leader says, unless of course what the leader says is the same thing the leader does. As a leader, who you are makes a difference. The most important message you can share is yourself. Your people watch you constantly, they are watching to determine if you’re the type of leader they can trust. 

Here’s the most basic leadership equation of all: trust = follower-ship. Where there is no trust there can be no true following. True following comes from commitment and while a leader’s position may get them the compliance of their people only trust can earn commitment.

If a leader isn’t trusted by their people then don’t be surprised when the people aren’t trusted by the leader. People really do follow the leader.

Everything a leader says and does either adds to or subtracts from their “credibility bank.” Almost nothing is credibility neutral, everything matters. Authentic leaders know that and work to make certain that their words match their actions as much as possible. 

Let me say this as clearly as I can; if your credibility sinks low enough you may have a title or position of leadership but you’re not leading anymore. You can’t be leading because people can’t follow a leader with low credibility. If you have no followers then you’re not leading no matter what your business card might say.

People do follow the leader but only if that leader is a person they can trust. If you can’t pass the trust test then all your leadership efforts will come up short. Your vision will never be realized, your influence will be limited, and your success will be in doubt. 

If you want to be a leader that people will follow then don’t work for a position or title that people will “have to” follow. Instead work to become the type of person they will want to follow. 

Be the type of person they can trust! 

The Two Types of Truth

When what you do and what you say don’t match which one is the truth? Which one is the real you? How are people supposed to know? Do you even know? 

Is there a professional you and a personal you? A public you and a private you? Why are there two of you? 

I think we become two when we forget our Core Values, or worse, when we don’t know what they are to begin with. Just to be clear, Core Values are those values we hold which from the foundation of who we truly are. These are the values that are so primary and so important that even in a constantly changing world we still abide by them. These values determine how we work, how we interact with people and even which people we allow into our lives. They are the principles we use, or more likely, should be using everyday to determine how we live our lives. 

They also determine who we truly are. Truly!

It is far easier to talk about our Core Values than it is to put them on display. That’s why too often we appear to present two sides of truth: what we say are our values and what our values appear to be to others. 

Most people who see the two sides of your “truth” will just wonder which one is real. That “wonder” can cause doubt and doubt for a leader can be deadly. When your people don’t know which is real, what you say or what you do, they lose faith in your integrity and you lose the opportunity to lead. 

Authentic leaders live what they say. They know there is no stronger credibility than Core Values in action. Like my mom always said, “seeing is believing.” Once again this is where a mentor comes in handy, they care enough about you to call you on your two sides of truth. They won’t judge which one is right but they will cause you to choose between them.

Living our values is not easy, even our Core Values. No one is perfect and at times we will all slip. Core values, may not be at the top of our mind at all times but under pressure and duress they must be there.

As you decide to lead today, ask yourself which side of truth you will present today, the one you believe or the one you say you believe. The closer they are to one and the same, the closer you are to being an authentic leader.