Critical Leadership Quality: Why integrity is important

Leaders thrive on integrity. Many leaders have failed to uphold their end of the integrity bargain resulting in selling out their souls to greed. Conversely, great leaders understand the fragility of integrity. Once it’s gone, it’s challenging to recover.

Arguably, integrity is the bedrock of leadership. Any leader worth their salt understands the hard work it takes to succeed in any chosen profession. For the Army, my soldiers must know that I’m trustworthy. How could I be honest if I do not have integrity?

I’ll talk more about how honest people get the better-end of the bargaining table. The road is often less-traveled, but if negotiated correctly, the people with integrity wins.

Honest people create solutions

In the military, we’re taught to take the harder right instead of, the easier wrong. It’s easy to cut a corner, skim from the top, or evade a promise from someone who cannot provide meaningful help to you.

Unfortunately, in this quid-pro-quo world, honest leaders get a bad reputation for trying to do the right thing. How easy is it to shrug off responsibility for problems?

Honest leaders find solutions to problems that hurt others in the future. Former Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Army General (R) Martin Dempsey recounted his experience in his book No Time For Spectators about integrity.

General Dempsey was on patrol with his platoon when he noticed that he did not have the radio frequencies on his person. Usually, leaders wore the radio frequencies around their necks for security. These are sensitive items because if the enemy got these frequencies, then the entire operational force would be in jeopardy with the enemy listening in on those radio nets. Not to mention, it takes an asinine amount of time and effort to change these frequencies, republish them, and then change the radios for the entire force—all of this trouble caused by an avoidable offense.

General Dempsey backtracked on his patrol and found the frequencies at their previous rest stop near a pole where he sat down just 30 minutes earlier. Usually, a loss of frequencies is a report the higher.

General Dempsey called up his mistake. His example of ownership highlighted his integrity, which allowed him to remain in his position.

Subordinates trust honest leaders

Have you had a leader you did not trust? It’s challenging to work for these leaders because you don’t know if what they do/say is accurate. That hinders work production and stifles relationships.

Subordinates receive better feedback from honest leaders. Great feedback happens because employees know that their fair boss is trying to build up the employee. I have received feedback from people with and without integrity. I have noticed the difference between these two experiences, and I was more willing to follow the one with integrity.

I once had a great boss for a short time. She had my best interests in mind, and she had integrity. If I needed correcting, she coached me. When I made a mistake that affected the team, she proactively confronted her boss with the error, took responsibility, and then coached me on how to correct the situation. I had to have the integrity to tell her the problem in the first place, too. She was tough on me, but I understood why. She wanted me to improve and be the best soldier I could be. That takes effort, trust, and loyalty to get subordinates to buy-into that message. It all starts with integrity and being honest with yourself.

Leaders with integrity are priceless

These are the people who move organizations forward. Great leaders are accountable, responsible, and exert tireless effort to ensure the success of their teams. Bosses with integrity can connect with others, especially during times of need.

Leaders with integrity identify problems because they’re not going to shy away from negative consequences. The attitude these people have is to move toward a common goal, which is priceless for any organization.

One tricky part I have learned about integrity is that leaders must know when to break the rules. With that in mind, office regulations and societal laws exist for a reason. However, the difference between one who has integrity and someone who doesn’t is the attitude displayed when called on the carpet.

The one with integrity will take responsibility for their actions. They’ll accept the consequence and create a plan to avoid breaking the rule again or will advocate for a new change by promoting a unique solution. Also, leaders with integrity will not tolerate unnecessary rule-breaking. A good rule of thumb to follow is: only bend or break a regulation if you’re willing to accept the follow-on consequence.

Conversely, people without integrity will not take responsibility for their actions. They’ll justify their reasons for breaking a rule, and place blame on others for their mistake. Also, leaders who aren’t honest will avoid taking responsibility for the errors of their team and will avoid coaching those who are struggling. They’ll see themselves as better than others, and will tear down the accomplishments of their peers and subordinates.

I understand these are harsh words for this post. Now, I hope you know why leaders who have integrity are priceless. Know this difference.

Conclusion

I’ll admit that this post was mostly common sense compared to other articles I have written. Either someone has integrity, or they do not. If you’re trying to work on it, here are some evaluation questions to ask yourself:

  1. Am I doing what’s right even when no one is watching?
  2. Is there someone that needs my help, and I jump to assist?
  3. Am I taking responsibility for issues that involve me?

If you want a book review for General Dempsey’s book, you can find it here.

Ask yourselves these questions, and you’ll find yourself evaluating how to make your work experience better.

What experiences have you had with honest people? Dishonest?

12 thoughts on “Critical Leadership Quality: Why integrity is important”

  1. Favorme says:

    Hi Robert, I just read your invaluable post about Critical Leadership Quality…, It is quite a good read. I totally agree with the assertion that subordinates trust their leader. How I wish many leaders will know what leadership requires, the skills, qualities, and the influence they command or suppose to command. If a leader is a person of character which has to do with integrity, by the way, he or she will be trusted and respected by his or her subordinates.

    Another point you made is that leaders with integrity are priceless. That’s true. Today, many organizations, institutions, government, mostly third world countries, lack leadership skills, and integrity, hence there is no trust between the government and the governed, even in the homes, so many people who suppose to be leaders in their homes are not leading with example. It seems that many leaders are just after the title and position, and the popularity, and nothing more. Leadership is about dealing with people, about solving problems that have to do with Basic Human Needs as articulated by Abraham Maslow the great Psychology theorist. The world is highly in need of leaders with integrity.

    Valuable post. Thanks for sharing.

    Favorme.

    1. Robert says:

      Favorme,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! You’re right that one of the best leadership skills to develop is integrity. Sometimes, popularity does get in the way, too. Thank you for your comment! 

      Robert

  2. evans says:

    a good leader must exhibit certain traits that is needed of him to be able to lead his fellow as I want of this trade is integrity..Integrity is the most important trait of leadership in our society because regardless of what other beneficial characteristics exist, people will not follow someone unless they have established trust with them…therefore a good leader must exhibit such traits in order to be able to lead his followers….

    1. Robert says:

      Evans,

      Like you said, leaders do need to have good habits to be effective. One of those is integrity. I appreciate your comment!

      Robert

  3. C.N. says:

    Thank you so much for this critically important article, Robert! Integrity is one of the cornerstones of an effective leader and a successful company. I had a boss that micromanaged to the extreme, constantly cut corners, and garnered a less than flattering reputation in the field (legal). We dreaded coming to the office everyday (we loved our clients, but were completely drained from the toxic work environment and our boss’s professional ineptitude), many people ended up leaving, and a month before the pandemic hit, it was announced that the business would be closing its’ doors for good. Doing the right thing may not always seem easy, but it will always be the better decision and will leave you in a better place in the long run. Thank you for addressing this. God bless you!

    1. Robert says:

      C.N,

      I’m so sorry you suffered from a boss who micromanaged everything. That’s not easy. You’re right that doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but it is worth it in the end. Thank you for your comment!

      Robert

  4. Dehi Jay says:

    Hi Robert,

    Interesting take on integrity and leadership and how they go hand-in-hand. In this day and age, it’s not always easy to be a leader, let alone one with integrity, given that each person you may be leading has their own moral compass of right and wrong. Sometimes it’s not as simple as black and white and leaders really have to make tough calls in order to constantly maintain their integrity. I’ve held many leadership positions in my life, at work and at home, and I agree that it’s a tough quality to maintain, but in the end a rewarding one to have! Good post!

    1. Robert says:

      Dehi,

      It is difficult to make that balance, your right. We have to have interests align in our workplaces. Thank you for your comment!

      Robert

  5. Alena says:

    I know quite a few people already in leadership that could benefit from this article! I really like how much you focus on a leader being trustworthy. If employees (though you don’t have to be in management to be a leader) can trust their leader to not only be honest with them, but to also do what is right….that is like hitting the jackpot for employee loyalty.

    1. Robert says:

      Alena,

      You’re absolutely right that you don’t have to be in leadership to be a leader! If you’re interested, I have another article specifically about that right here: https://leadershipbrownbag.com/how-to-lead-when-youre-not-in-charge/ Thank you for your comment!

      Robert

  6. Alejandro says:

    I personally believe that integrity is easily one of the most important traits that a person needs to have in life. If you are not honest then people will simply not trust you. I personally believe that honesty is one of my strongest traits, but, like everyone, I can definitely improve in this trait. Thank you for reminding me about the important of integrity Robert!

    1. Robert says:

      Alejandro,

      Integrity is very important to have in life, you’re right. I’m glad that you’re an honest person, and that it’s one of your strongest traits. I’m glad to help remind you. Thank you for your comment!

      Robert

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