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Legatus Magazine

Cover Story
Mike Mccartney | author
Mar 01, 2020
Filed under Ethics

Integrity essential for a leader’s credibility

We all want to get to heaven, and as Tom Monaghan says, “and take as many people as we can with us.” To do this, we must lead with integrity.

Integrity is the most cited word with companies that list their values. But listing these values and living them are two different things. Some companies tout their values but don’t hold leaders accountable for living them. Consider, for example, that Enron had “integrity” on their list of values.

Nothing is more critical for a leader’s credibility than integrity. The Leadership Challenge (written by Barry Posner and James Kouzes) and the Center for Creative Leadership provide research that reveals integrity is the most important factor for a C-suite’s performance.

The word comes from the Latin integritas, meaning “one, whole, incorrupt.” Buildings have integrity if they stand firm. Leaders have integrity if they stand for what is right. “Integrity is what you do when no one is watching,” the saying goes. That’s true. But when you are the leader, someone is always watching. Employees watch the boss. Kids watch the parents. That’s because behavioris more believable than words. Personal examples for me are my parents. My mom never worked outside the home, never developed a strategic plan. But she was a leader—we nine kids did not have to wait 12 months for our performance appraisal. We always knew where we stood. She expected a lot and held us accountable. My dad, a World War II vet, would have qualified for Legatus had it been around then. He started and ran a successful concrete construction company with two partners. I didn’t know it then, but for most of his career he couldn’t read. Yet he achieved a lot with little formal education because of his unbending integrity. He was trusted and respected because his word was gold. His actions matched his words.

Integrity is not the same as honesty. Good leaders already “don’t lie.” But consider how their actions can fall short of their words: they say employees are like family, but don’t know the receptionist by name; they say all opinions are valued, but cut people off who voice a different view. Actions fall short when leaders don’t speak up on issues of moral significance.

Everyone wants to believe they have high integrity. But truth be told, direct-report ratings of C-level leaders reveal a different story. Why? Blind spots. For those at the top, success can lead to losing touch with how they are perceived. It’s difficult for people in positions of authority to get unvarnished feedback on their behavior. This makes it critical to cultivate candor and openness.

Catholics who dutifully practice their faith are called “practicing” Catholics—a good reminder to be intentional for doing what’s right. And it can be helpful to tap the perspective of others on matters of what’s right and wrong.

A Legatus Forum is a good place to do this. Legates view life through a Catholic lens and can provide insight and challenge to each other for getting clear when matters are murky. The 2020 Summit East theme, “Iron Sharpens Iron” reminds Legates that those they associate with are sources for becoming better leaders, better Catholics.

Integrity is foundational for trust. Leaders earn trust when they do what they said they would do, when they take a stand on what they believe to be right and just.

MIKE MCCARTNEY is on the Legatus National Board of Governors, and is a director for the Genesis Chapter. He has spoken on leadership to Legatus chapters coast to coast.


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