Tag Archives: integrity

When a leader has soul

We work with varying types of leaders – in business, parishes, neighborhoods, schools, and professional groups. Some succeed, some slide.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

Like a strong business plan, a good leader’s strategy assures attainment of his objectives. It doesn’t mean he seeks to dominate the team, or steal credit for their ideas, or run his ship like a tyrant. He hits the home run when he effectively inspires the group — they want him to succeed, and he mentors them — and his team puts forth whatever it takes. Surprisingly, they’re not envious of his money, stuff, or stature. They love him, and find joy in working with him.

In almost four decades of professional work, I’ve come across very few leaders I’d categorize like that. But one stands out.

In the ad agency business, almost anything goes. They’ve been known to employ ‘creative moral constructs’, shortcuts, deceptions, idea-lifting, and employ any vice to get clients and make big money. Fresh out of college at my first big agency job in the early 80s, I excitedly wrapped an ad-strategy book I’d give at our lunchtime pollyanna at a swank hotel Christmas party that day. They’d have a live big-band, I’d wear my new velvet dress, get up early and fancy my hair and makeup, and catch an earlier morning train into Philadelphia. After ogling over endless tables of ice sculptures, cocktails flowing from multiple bars, disco lighting effects, and designer hors d’oeuvres, it was finally time for the blind gift-exchange. As each staffer’s name was called, he or she was presented a name-labeled gift from a large grab-box holding them all.

I couldn’t make sense of it. A number of senior staffers were unwrapping little bags of what looked like sugar or flour. Did they bake after-hours? Huh?

My supervisor, a middle-aged, very orthodox Jewish man, signaled me over to the lobby door.

“Listen, I know you don’t know what you’re seeing here…but they give ‘substances’ as gifts.” Then he said, “You need to move on from this place. I hate to lose you on the team, but will give you a glowing reference. Just don’t waste your time here anymore.” And he helped me get my next position as a legal writer and researcher.

What I remember most about him was, he put in a full day (almost no one else did), and he won many awards for his terrific work, but the agency wouldn’t promote him. He’d always say just the right – but wrong – thing. He’d blurt out the truth about duplicitous co-workers, crooked clients, invoice- and timesheet gouging, hushed office affairs, ‘situations’ that everyone else accepted.

But he told the truth. And he wore his integrity and faith on his sleeve. He prayed before eating lunch at his desk, and took Jewish holidays off to go to synagogue. He was a gentleman and a devoted dad and husband. He coached me in writing tactics, on making winning business pitches, and approaching media executives.

Much of what I learned about my craft – and owning my integrity – I learned from him. We keep in touch to this day.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK  is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

The importance of virtues in business

WILLIAM H. BOWMAN writes that firms run by virtuous leaders thrive in the marketplace and the results show in their bottom lines. Further, the character of employees is more important than ever, and data show that companies led by men and women of character outperform competitors. Key virtues include integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion . . .

William H. Bowman

William H. Bowman

by William H. Bowman

April’s Harvard Business Review has a fascinating article which notes that we regularly hear about unethical CEOs, but not much about firms led by “highly principled leaders.”

Do such organizations outpace competitors? KRW International conducted a survey and found that firms run by virtuous executives had a two-year return on assets of 9.4%. Those led by ethically challenged leaders returned 1.9%. And what were the key virtues they tracked? Integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion.

This isn’t the first time the relationship between virtue and corporate performance has been observed. In 2001, Jim Collins published Good to Great, demonstrating that top CEOs consistently practiced two key virtues: personal humility and professional will. He called that “Level 5 Leadership” and said it was primarily responsible for the 5:1 stock performance advantage great companies had over their direct competitors.

With such dramatic results, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to hire employees who took seriously the practice of virtues? We all say we want employees with integrity, but do we seriously address the issue of virtue in our recruiting procedures? If not, we should! Fivefold performance advantages are just too significant to ignore. But how do we do this? Which virtues are the most critical?

I was the president of two companies, each with about 250 employees. One was in the child care business and the other conducted building inspections. Each company decided it would work to acquire the human virtues most important to its customers.

Our first step was assembling a list of human virtues. We were able to identify 135 of them. Recognizing the impossibility of becoming proficient in each, we decided we would choose five. But which five? We needed employees to buy in because this was going to be serious work. So we decided we would ask each of our customers: “What is most valuable in the work that we do for you?” We received over 200 responses from each company’s customers.

We then mapped each customer response to one of the 135 human virtues. At the end of that mapping, we picked the five that received the most comments. For the child care company, the virtues were patience, optimism, tolerance, perseverance and commitment. For the building inspection company, they were diligence, dependability, knowledge, charity and honesty.

With virtues identified, we created an 18-month program where the first three months were reserved for planning, and each successive three-month period was dedicated to learning and practicing each of the five virtues.

Of course, we learn from Aristotle and others that virtues can’t simply be willed, they must be practiced. We become a generous person by practicing acts of generosity, not simply by reading about the value of giving. So for each virtue we created a plan by department so employees would have plenty of opportunity to practice that virtue. One of the real benefits of this process was that the entire company worked on each virtue at the same time, so there was a lot of shared experience.

A few months after the program ended, we went back and measured our key company metrics to see what had changed. We were not expecting to see the dramatic cost savings that accrued at the end of the program. Here are some examples:

• A reduction in turnover at the building inspection company from 20% to 14% six months later, to 8% a year after the program ended. It cost us about $25,000 to replace an employee, so this saved us $750,000. At the child care company, turnover was reduced by 35%.

• When our building inspectors missed a defect, the company had to pay to remediate it. That bleed was running $1 million a year before the program, but fell to $150,000 a year after the program ended, saving $850,000 per year. This savings continued year after year.

• A Fortune 100 company decided to purchase a child-care facility for its own use because it wanted a partner dedicated to helping its employees improve their personal as well as professional lives.

The break-even for each company’s program was less than six months. So we had a company that was more virtuous and that cost much less to run. Truly a virtuous cycle.

The character of employees is more important than ever, and data show that companies led by men and women of character outperform competitors. A conscious plan to help employees develop the virtues important to their business can vastly improve a company’s culture, as well as reduce its costs.

WILLIAM H. BOWMAN is president and CEO of Core Values Group.

Integrity on the playing field of life

Paul J. Voss writes that baseball players linked to performance-enhancing drugs have been denied entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While politicians and celebrities who lack integrity often get a free pass with regard to ethics, sports are different Christians, too, are called to a higher standard. We cannot simply be Sunday-morning Catholics . . .

Paul J. Voss

Paul J. Voss

Each January, the Baseball Writers’ of America Association (BBWAA) announces the results of the annual Hall of Fame voting. The 2013 ballot included some rather impressive names, including Roger Clemens (a seven-time Cy Young award winner), Barry Bonds (the all-time home run king), and Sammy Sosa (the only person in MLB history to hit more than 60 home runs in three different seasons).

Despite their gaudy numbers and impressive career achievements, not a single member of this esteemed trio earned even 38% of the vote (a player needs to be named on 75% of the ballot for admission into the pantheon of all-time greats). The writers had tossed a shutout of historic proportions.

These players, of course, do not have spotless reputations. Strong evidence links each athlete to the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and a growing consensus among sports writers seems to be emerging: Players who admitted to using PEDs, and even those strongly suspected of using PEDs, will not be admitted into the Hall of Fame anytime soon. In previous years, the writers tipped their hand, so to speak, by refusing to enshrine other Hall-worthy candidates (like Mark McGuire and Rafeal Palmeiro) who had been linked to PEDs. By opting not to admit the users (either admitted or suspected), the writers had ample justification at their disposal.

The BBWAA Election Rules state that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played” (#5). This rule obviously leaves some room for interpretation and, as a result, differences certainly emerge. However, the most dominant issue of this election was the use of PEDs and the bearing that drug use had on the words sportsmanship and integrity.

Sportsmanship suggests fairness, respect for an opponent, and graciousness in winning. It also mandates the proper adherence to the rules of the game and prudent disposition of energy. This aspect of sport often caught the attention of Blessed John Paul II, himself an athlete. In marking the 25th World Day of Tourism in 2004, he said: “The correct practice of sport must be accompanied by practicing the virtues of temperance and sacrifice; frequently it also requires a good team spirit, respectful attitudes, the appreciation of the qualities of others, honesty in the game and humility to recognize one’s own limitations.”

Professional athletes obviously strive for every competitive advantage and this desire, often fueled by excessive pride, can weaken any sense of sportsmanship or fair play. Lance Armstrong admitted as much in his recent interview with Oprah Winfrey. The BBWAA obviously felt that using PEDs violated the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play — even if “everyone was doing it.”

The word “integrity” comes from the Latin integritat, meaning “whole” or “complete.” In action and behavior, integrity implies (and even requires) a conspicuous attention to ethics and the quest for human excellence and flourishing. But if we even casually scan the landscape of American politics, business, entertainment and civic life, lack of integrity does not necessarily disqualify a person from high status, adoration or success. We can see myriad examples of complete disregard for integrity — behavior that often leads to worldly success and acclaim. How might we account for this disjunction between the Hall of Fame and everyday life?

The credibility of sport requires integrity from athletes, coaches, equipment manufacturers, referees and the rule book. Without a soundness from all stakeholders, the entire constellation of sporting activities collapses into farce. We value a level playing field, competent officiating, sensible rules and legal equipment in order to preserve the integrity of the game. We may have a cynical attitude toward politics, but our feelings toward sports remains genuine and honest. Thus, cheaters cannot and will not be tolerated.

What does this mean on a practical level for Catholics who desire to live a life of integrity? A life of integrity would reject the balkanization of faith. We cannot simply be Sunday-morning Catholics. In order to achieve integrity, we must integrate our faith into all aspects of our life. We cannot be faithful spouses only 50% of the time. Our role as mother or father is not simply a fashion that changes from one season to the next. In business, we need to treat stakeholders with honesty in every transaction. In the final analysis, the quality of our life — the assessment of our career — will include the amount of integrity we brought to the playing field of life.

PAUL J. VOSS, Ph.D., is president of Ethikos, a professional organization ’offering ethics training, and an associate professor of literature at Georgia State University.

Say what you mean, mean what you say

Catholic business ethics expert Dave Durand contents that conviction is more than a strategy for attracting top talent. Demonstrating conviction is a leader’s moral obligation. One of the most powerful ways leaders can and should communicate conviction is to say what they mean and mean what they say. People need to know the depth of your conviction.

Dave Durand

Dave Durand

Conviction is the music of leadership. I once heard a famous psychiatrist decry the fact that a single song can have greater influence on a person’s brain activity than a therapist can in years. Music captures emotions and frees the mind. It can prepare you for battle and calm you during stress. The more dramatic the music is, the more powerfully the lyrics are received. We all know what it’s like to listen to uninspired music. It repels sophisticated and educated people. They don’t “buy” it in spirit or in stores.

Well-intentioned leaders who fail to communicate their vision with conviction fail to attract great people to their teams just like bad music repels listeners. Unfortunately, weak followers sometimes don’t care what the music or lyrics sound like. They’ll listen to anything, which is why some leaders fill their staffing requirements but can’t seem to attract top talent.

Setting your message to music — or conviction, as the metaphor implies — is more than a strategy for attracting top talent. Demonstrating conviction is a leader’s moral obligation. It’s a sign of integrity. Sending subordinates on a mission that you, as a leader, don’t believe in is dubious at best. There are, of course, nuances in leadership that may include allowing subordinates to discover and innovate in areas that a leader might not fully buy into. Making room for those situations is smart as long as the leader communicates his concerns so there aren’t any surprises in the end. Expressing your concerns is expressing your convictions. Open communication creates an atmosphere of security. It’s better for subordinates to be given the blessing of a leader with open doubts than the false support of a leader who demonstrates insincerity.

Communicating your convictions as a leader is so important that it actually makes sense to establish a strategic plan for doing so. In other words, making a plan not so much for the words, but for the music, is crucial. Tragically, I have seen many leaders with strong convictions and great ideas who fail to communicate them in a believable way. This is true no matter what the setting. It can be seen in corporate America, politics, the Church and even at home.

When I was in high school, I remember listening to catechism teachers mumble out a few pre-scripted ideas about what it “might mean” to sin. They had such little conviction that I not only didn’t hear what they said, I didn’t care what they said. On the other hand, my football coach, who was a perennial winner for 30 years, always spoke with conviction. I believed everything he said about the game and I did everything he asked me to on the field. He inspired me because I believed him. I used his conviction as my own. He was great because through his obvious convictions he got others to believe in their own greatness and the team’s united mission.

There are three powerful ways that leaders can and should communicate conviction. First, they must only say what they mean and mean what say. George Burns once said, “The key to acting is sincerity. Once you learn to fake that you have it made.” The world is filled with actors in leadership roles. Scripture tells us to be sure our yes means yes and our no means no. The Bible also cautions that many people have tongues of deceit and flattery which are used only for their personal gain. Far too often weak leaders say things out of selfish motives. They tell subordinates to do things under the false guise that they have their best intentions in mind, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Public examples of this in politics and business are so frequently reported that I will refrain from dredging them up. The point is that “selling an idea” you don’t buy yourself is bad for all parties and terrible for your soul.

The second way that leaders should communicate conviction is by backing up what they say. Recently there have been some heroic examples of leaders showing concern for their employees during these challenging times. There are inspiring stories of private companies whose leaders have reduced their own compensation in order to prevent layoffs. When a CEO asks his staff to take a 10% cut in pay because it will save jobs, it can be received skeptically. But it has huge meaning when he puts his conviction behind the message by cutting his own compensation by 80%. This demonstrates that conviction is not simply about presentation and communication skills. It’s about principle.

The third thing that a leader should do to communicate his convictions effectively is to engage in healthy conflict, which means putting your convictions and principles ahead of your comfort. Being straight with your team is essential. It may not always be easy, but it will create an atmosphere of security. People need to know where you stand and how deep your roots of conviction run.

Dave Durand is best-selling author of “Perpetual Motivation,” executive of a $250 million company, and trainer of well over 100,000 individuals in sales, marketing and business management. He writes a regular column for the National Catholic Register.