I was watching a TV show recently (no, it wasn’t Star Wars) where a lead character on the show had a ton of integrity and everyone counted on her good judgment. Then within a few episodes, she got corrupted by others and her need to cover-up information continued to grow. This is taking her down a path that will not allow her to succeed. This made me think about integrity and how much the lack of it can undermine any leader.
The most common situation where integrity plays a key role is in making decisions. I remember when I first became a lead, I struggled with making decisions. This was because sometimes the decision that was better for me or the easiest way out of a situation was not the honorable one. If I can save my team time or effort by going with the easier solution, why wouldn’t I? Well, I learned quickly that there is never an easy decision to be made when you are a leader. Every decision has many facets. At the point you make a decision that is not based on integrity, you start down that path of convoluted information and extra work as you compensate for your decision. This is the dark side of decision-making.
As a hiring manager, I have a good example of this. I am trying to hire an engineer. I am getting a lot of pressure from many people to fill the position because the longer the position stays open, the more chance it will go away and I won’t be able to hire anyone. I also get a lot of pressure to hire more junior people although the position and the team require someone with more experience. The easy way out is to decide on a candidate just to fill the position. But this is not the right thing to do. If the person hasn’t exhibited all the necessary skills, then this could be a problem for years to come. And everyone will spend extra time trying to work around any personal shortcomings the person I hire may have if I take the easy way out. In the long run, this is not a good decision because it is not based on integrity. Making a bad decision like this would be based on peer pressure (yes, it’s not just a high school behavior) and based on facts that have been ignored (facts like not having all the skills). So I continue to hold out for the right candidate which requires more of my time as I continue to interview candidates as well as more negotiation with those peers that keep putting on the pressure. It’s not the easiest solution, but it’s the right one.
I rely on the idea of “doing the right thing no matter how difficult”. It is not an easy task to live up to this idea, but it always works and makes decisions much easier. Nobody can argue against a decision you make if you can describe why it is the right thing to do. Sure, there will be times when what you think is the right thing and what someone else thinks is the right thing is contradictory. But more often, sticking with decisions based on integrity will be easier to describe, hold up to scrutiny, withstand the test of time, and improve overall morale. Teams feel much better when they see their leaders having integrity. It becomes contagious and soon everyone feels more upbeat because they understand that the underline principle of the team is integrity. How can that be negative? And even if the decisions made lead the team down the more difficult path (“doing the right thing no matter how difficult”, remember?), the motivation and momentum contributes to making that an easier path to follow.
So how do you judge if your point of view has integrity? Determine who benefits from it. First and foremost, if it benefits the customer, then it’s more than likely the right thing to do. If it increases team efficiency, improves product quality, generates better career growth, or improves morale, it’s probably a point of view based on integrity. On the flip side, the darker side, if your point of view exists for the sole purpose of benefiting you, it’s not based on integrity. Leaders do not put themselves first, especially not in decision-making. If you have a hidden agenda, make a decision due to feelings or friendships, or generally go against your conscience or gut-feel, rethink your decision and work on doing the right thing.
Do this and a good leader you will be. This now concludes our Jedi training.