Somewhere, in some company, a CEO does something to violate the trust of employees, stockholders, and the public daily. As a result, now seven in 10 people distrust CEOs. Eight in 10 are convinced these top executives would take “improper actions to help themselves at the expense of their companies. In recent months, the percentage of people who perceive big business as a threat to the nation’s future has doubled to 38 percent.
So, what must CEOs do? Become a Trust Me leader, focusing on the welfare and success of the people around them rather than on their own. Ironically, this ensures their own welfare and success more surely. They hold firm under pressure and maintain their focus. Above all, they possess integrity.
Integrity is intrinsic to a Trust Me leader and is so compelling that people naturally want to follow leaders who have it. People are most willing to follow someone they can trust. They must be sure foe person will be straight with them, follow through faithfully on their stated intentions, and remain true to their expressed values.
What is integrity? What does it look like? What can a leader do to become a Trust Me leader? The root word for “integrity” is integer—a whole, indivisible number. Leaders who focus on integrity choose to live a whole life, neither divided nor fractured through compromise, hypocrisy, instability or dishonesty. They won’t do it perfectly, but in spite of expected human frailties, a Trust Me leader strives to be whole and undivided. He or she is “the real deal.”
In “The Soul of the Firm”, William Pollard wrote, “We must be people of integrity seeking to do what is right, even when no one is looking.”
Barriers to Integrity
Becoming a whole leader of integrity is easier contemplated than achieved. Before exploring the attitudes and actions that build a life of integrity, let’s examine some stumbling blocks not easily seen or surmounted on the journey.
When leaders are paralyzed by fear, they tend to lose perspective and often make decisions or act in ways that do not support integrity. Fear also causes them to lose vision .and hope. They vacillate and lose heart. They simply give up and a life of integrity sinks below their radar. They expect, or others expect, them to deliver results, but they are bound by such fear that they lose their sense of direction and their heart.
The compromise of values is a sad and gradual corrosion of golden intentions, happening over time—a little lie or indiscretion leads to another until, almost imperceptibly, integrity and character begin to crumble. Finally, their integrity is completely ruined.
The root word for hypocrite is lzupokrisis. It was used in classical Greek as part of theatrical acting and evolved to mean acting a part. In this sense, the great actors are hypocrites-they assume a role and act out a part. Their acting roles are separate from their real lives.
In leadership, integrity is about actions matching beliefs. Do leaders “act” the part or are they genuine? Does their walk match their talk? Hypocrisy, like fear and compromise, can destroy integrity and render leaders trustless.