Ask any leader what are the three most important things to him or her and the answer will nearly always include “integrity.” They hold it as important and judge others by it. But when you ask, “What is integrity?” The answers vary widely. Here are 5 things that most leaders agree are key indicators of integrity.
1. Taking responsibility. One of the most historic examples of responsibility occurred many years ago with the first large-scale product tampering occurrences. In 1982, Tylenol was the leading painkiller medicines in the U.S. Seven people in Chicago were reported dead after taking extra strength Tylenol capsules. The reputation of Johnson and Johnson was at stake. An immediate product recall was undertaken, (about 31 Million bottles, at a loss of more than $100 Million dollars) and all advertisement for the product was halted. When reintroduced, the product was sold in tamper resistant packaging; caplets which were more resistant to tampering. Robert Wood Johnson wrote the company credo in the 1940’s. It stated that the company’s responsibilities were to the consumers and medical professionals using their products, employees and communities where it’s people worked and lived. By taking responsibility for the crisis, Johnson and Johnson proved the integrity of their company which enabled them to recover and continue to grow.
2. Treating others with respect. If I were to ask, “What challenges a leader’s character?” The top two answers would likely be adversity and power. Leaders with integrity treat others with respect, regardless of their job. Every person plays a role in a company’s success, and great leaders know that even the lowest paid employee for the company makes a contribution. Want to judge a person’s character? Notice how they speak to service workers like waiters, cashiers and housekeeping.
3. Giving freely without expectation. Leaders with integrity do things for others because it is the right thing to do. While there is a likelihood of reciprocation, great leaders do not expect anything in return, and help others even if they are not able to return the favor.
4. Holding firm to their values. Leaders with integrity don’t lose track of their principles just because they have power. When a leader continues to live by his or her values, even when they have the top spot and much influence, then you can really know who they are.
Their decisions will be made based on what is right, not greed or caprice.
5. Surround themselves with people of integrity. A great leader knows they do not know everything. They also know that we are the sum of the 5 people we spend the most time with. That means that those around us need to not only be a support for us, but need to be a mirror for us as well. If we are proposing something stupid, or dangerous, those we have chosen to surround us need to have the courage to say, “That is stupid,” tell us why, and challenge and support us to do and be better.