“I look for three things in hiring people. The first is integrity, the second is intelligence, and the third is a high energy level. But, if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” — Warren Buffett
These days the word integrity is thrown around almost as often as the word awesome. And in the same way few things can be accurately described as awesome, I find few of our celebrated leaders demonstrate integrity.
Witness the news of the past few weeks where countless celebrities, sports stars, government officials, and business people demonstrated a lack of integrity in their behavior. Are we expecting too much out of these media-hyped people?
Integrity is defined as an adherence to moral and ethical principles, soundness in moral character or honesty. And unlike other knowledge and skills of leadership, integrity is not something one can learn and experiment with now and then.
We should seriously question the leadership of those who have failed us with a lack of integrity. Leaders in business and elsewhere need to consistently demonstrate integrity or we should reject them. Because without integrity there can be no true leadership. And unlike other qualities of leadership, integrity is either there or it isn’t.
So what does this say about the fallen leaders we honor so highly in our society? Did they delude us or did we delude ourselves?
Identifying integrity in someone is challenging because it is found within a person’s moral fiber or character. It isn’t something they can simply document on a resume or easily demonstrate in an interview. Integrity is proven through consistent behavior over time and verified by the people around them.
“The people with whom a person works, and especially subordinates, know in a few weeks whether he or she has integrity or not,” writer and management consultant Peter Drucker stated in The Daily Drucker. “They may forgive a person for a great deal of incompetence, ignorance, insecurity, or bad manners. But they will not forgive a lack of integrity in that person.”
Many charismatic leaders enjoy lots of media attention, but charisma can only go so far if there isn’t a solid foundation of integrity beneath the surface. We should question the supposedly strong leaders the media presents us with because simply reaching celebrity status does not make for a strong leader. In fact, it could mean just the opposite.
Great leaders model integrity through their honesty and by doing the right thing no matter the circumstances. Those leaders with integrity do what is right for the organization and the people within it—even when he or she may gain nothing from the outcome.
Strong leaders demonstrate an indisputable track record of integrity throughout their career. Look for it and demand it in those you choose to follow. Integrity is not the only quality to look for in a leader, but it may very well be the most vital.
Mark Craemer www.craemerconsulting.com