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Leadership Traits – Integrity
By Gerald Gillis

Is the term integrity something that is clear to you? Is it a complicated set of principles that can vary according to a particular moral consideration or a specific set of circumstances? Or is it simply doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do?

Think of integrity as the quality of having high moral principles, of being reliable and trustworthy. It does not mean that you are near perfection as a human being, but rather that you can be trusted with words and deeds. For you, if integrity means doing the right thing, even if nobody knows or notices, then you understand the concept. If you behave consistently and use your moral principles, reliability, and trustworthiness as your guiding lights, you can rightfully be described as a person of integrity.

It is a description that is earned, and one that should be prized. If you have it, guard and nurture it. If you don’t yet have it, pursue it zealously. It is worth the change in behavior you will have to make to earn it.

Now think of the foundation of a company as its core values. Core values can be defined as those things which we believe are the most important aspects of who we are and how we treat others. Effective core values very often operate behind the scenes, like a computer’s operating system, keeping everything functioning in a consistent, predictable manner. A leader’s core values come to be understood by an organization from that leader’s consistent behavior over time. Those core values are then inculcated into an organization based in large measure by the leader’s example. Hence, core values and integrity are inextricably linked; it’s difficult to have one without the other.

So, if you consider yourself a leader with integrity, and you have made it a practice to communicate your organization’s core values to your employees, what benefits do you think would accrue to those same employees?

I would suggest the following:

  • Empowerment. If a leader with integrity is a leader who can be trusted, it should generally follow that the leader places high levels of trust in employees. Being trusted can be empowering. Being empowered can lead to many other tangential benefits such as improvements in productivity, innovation, and morale.
  • Frame of Reference. Employees who understand the organization’s core values, and who see the leader as a person of integrity, will have little difficulty in determining their correct course of action when presented with a moral or ethical dilemma. The employees thus have a reference point that will guide and inform them.

  • Safety Shield. Employees who see that people with low integrity are smoked out and terminated will find a certain security in working for a leader and an organization where doing the right thing is not only expected, but demanded.

Being an honorable, ethical leader is still often difficult and challenging, but a leader without integrity is a pathway to ultimate oblivion.

Gerald Gillis is the author of the award-winning historical novel “Shall Never See So Much.” Gerald’s forthcoming novel, a business thriller, is due for release in the Fall, 2012. Visit his website at http://www.geraldgillis.com and his blog at http://geraldgillis.blogspot.com.

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