Personal Integrity in Leadership

Now that the President’s manufacturing council has disbanded following a wave of defections, it’s worth exploring how personal integrity fits into leadership. At what point should a leader remove him- or herself from a situation where they feel their moral code is being challenged?

One could argue that with the exception of Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who was the first to resign after President Trump’s tepid response to what transpired in Charlottesville, VA last weekend, those who resigned after him may have calculated the pros and cons of remaining on the council and chose to leave only after it was determined it would not negatively affect their corporate interests.

Many members of the advisory group stood with the president even as he advanced policies they vehemently opposed. One could argue that with both Trump’s ban on immigration from the Middle East (Uber’s Travis Kalanick) and the decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord (Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Bob Iger) CEOs who resigned from the manufacturing council or strategic and policy forum were taking a stand that was more directly related to their corporate interests than personal conscience.

But at what point should we expect our leaders to stand up for principles above profits? When should they put corporate values above shareholder value?  When should concern for Americans in general be more important than an organization’s products or services?

I believe Mr. Frazier answered this question very well.

“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Mr. Frazier said in a statement on Monday. “As CEO of Merck, and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

It’s unfortunate the President chose to respond to this with a tweet essentially belittling Mr. Fraizer’s integrity by changing the subject and attacking his company over drug pricing.

In a way it’s also unfortunate that it took the only African-American member on the council to resign before others chose to follow suit. How can any leader with integrity passively condone statements that run counter to who they are as individuals? I believe this “personal conscience” should actually help guide the decision-making of those leading our organizations.

Leadership requires a level of personal integrity that employees, customers and shareholders can all rely upon. When leaders take a stand against what conflicts with their personal conscience, they courageously hold true to who they are. This personal choice to hold themselves to consistent moral and ethical standards is vital as they lead large organizations. And it is what separates great leaders from others.

When business leaders see it as morally compromising to take part on a President’s council, it is extremely important that they take a stand because they are in a position to do so. The leadership they demonstrate transcends quarterly financial reports. It is about personal integrity and that defines great leadership.

Now if only our Republican representatives could demonstrate the same kind of leadership.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s