Most people would agree that the most important quality of a true leader is integrity. Sure, a leader must have intelligence, experience, conviction, a results orientation and common sense; but the foremost quality that distinguishes an enlightened leader from others is integrity.
Leaders with integrity know right from wrong and chose right. Knowing the difference between right and wrong is the first step. That knowledge is often clear and binary. However, knowing what’s right and then affirmatively deciding to do what is right is a separate step. The decision to do right is not always easy. Often doing right conflicts with popular opinion, profitability and career opportunities. It takes courage and conviction to take the proper action. And, doing right is admirable.
When reflecting on good leaders, their conduct is typically driven by a firm conviction to comply with the law. They make it clear to their organization that everyone must conform with corporate policy and government regulation all of the time. Compliance is often a condition of employment.
Excellent leaders, however, think and act beyond compliance. Their deliberations on how best to react to a situation are far beyond choosing right over wrong. Compliance is their minimum expectation. They don’t stop at compliance with the law; that’s where they start. They often think and act far beyond regulatory requirements. Instead of being satisfied by merely achieving regulatory compliance, they focus on setting the standard higher, being the best, and doing more, often much more, than what is required by law or policy. These leaders are excellent because they are driven more than values; they are virtue driven.
If something is found that does not belong to you, good leaders know that they cannot take it. Excellent leaders take steps necessary to get the item into the hands of the rightful owner.
A good leader of a manufacturing plant that has a toxic spill, reports the spill to the government authorities as required. An excellent leader takes the steps necessary to clean the spill, notify affected persons, get them necessary medical attention and take steps to assure that the spill never occurs again.
A good leader makes sure that products do not contain any harmful ingredients beyond the permissible limit. Excellent leaders challenge their organization to totally eliminate any trace of harmful ingredients regardless of permissible limits.
When crafting an organizational culture, the leader has an obligation to set the tone. Be careful not to set an integrity goal at compliance, but rather allow your organization to strive to achieve the best outcome possible, often far beyond compliance. Then, support those who choose to do “more right” and recognize their efforts. Challenging employees to do their best and be the best by removing artificial boundaries encourages employees to think beyond any artificial limits of culture and reputation. Integrity can be enhanced along with the pride that accompanies it.