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A silent leadership killer

Almost every leader I know will tell you that he or she places integrity at the top of personal values. Given the widespread leadership failure that led to the Great Recession — I wonder how many of those leaders had integrity as a core value? — this is an important question to ask yourself: “How can I be assured that your integrity isn’t compromised?”

This is important because, contrary to what you might think, loss of integrity is a silent leadership killer. Vigilance is key to staying “in integrity.” Erosion of this value might happen slowly over time without much notice of integrity violations by those who participate in questionable practices. Issues that Greg Smith highlighted at Goldman Sachs in his resignation letter, published in The New York Times, are an example.

Groupthink is powerful: a little unethical conduct here, a white lie there — justification is available for every integrity-compromised action. Suddenly, someone realizes something is wrong, and it’s too late; the momentum has built like a leaky faucet until a drip becomes a stream that turns into a flood, drowning employees, customers and those who trusted your leadership.

How do you make sure you don’t get caught up in unethical or immoral conduct?

  • Know your values and refer to them often. Write them down and make them a visible reminder in your office. They are your foundation for staying in integrity.
  • Trust your gut when it’s telling you something might be amiss. Ask people you trust what they think.
  • Consider your priorities and ask what is important for you to do about a situation based on your values.

So let’s say you decided there is a problem. You, or someone in your organization, is ready to act in a way that is not aligned with your sense or your organization’s sense of integrity. What are you willing to do? To stay in integrity, you must:

  • Speak up with respect. If you want to stay true to your integrity, you must, no matter how difficult it might be.
  • Observe the reaction of those involved. Are they listening to you? Or are they vehemently defending their stance?
  • Be willing to walk away if you must. This could run the gamut from not participating in an activity that compromises your integrity to leaving your job. Yes, I said leaving your job. I know this sounds severe, but if integrity is truly an important value for you, what does it mean to stay in an organization that compromises that value? Are you staying true to your integrity by staying put?

Business is a powerful force in our world — and becoming more powerful. When you take a stand against unethical or immoral action, you make your corner of the world better. So stay vigilant to potential assault on your integrity, and take appropriate action if you must.