Can You Teach Leaders About Integrity?

Can You Teach Leaders About Integrity?

Training & Development Magazine ran a great article in its December 2010 issue titled “2010: Six Trends That Will Change Workplace Learning Forever.”

The first trend identified was the problem with leadership. Specifically, the article said that “consumers had a low perception of leaders and very little trust in corporate America.”

It is easy to understand why considering:
• Elected leaders who allow partisan politics to take precedent over effective governance.
• Corporate response to the British Petroleum oil spill and Toyota’s slow response to acceleration problems were simply the most visible of continued corporate unresponsiveness.
• The perception by employees that company leaders have sacrificed them at the alter of quarterly profits.
• Continued payment of huge bonuses paid to executives and employees at companies that two years ago needed public assistance to survive.

The list could go on, but you get the point. The perception of leaders in general is lousy.

The article makes an excellent case for teaching leaders how to act with integrity … and then it bailed out. The last statement in the article is the following quote from Steve Arneson:

“Integrity and honesty are hard things to teach in leadership development classes. Some people think, ‘You either have it, or you don’t.’ I would tend to agree with that. It is hard to open someone’s head and dump in five pints of integrity.”

Excuse me? Did I miss something? The first trend identified that will change workplace learning forever can’t be taught in the workplace? How can this be?

Leadership and organizational integrity are complex issues, but so are the topics of inclusiveness and emotional intelligence. We don’t see articles saying those important competencies can’t be taught.

Here’s what I have learned about teaching integrity in leadership over the past twenty years:
1. Most people know right from wrong when it comes to basic honesty. They never bought into the whole “Greed is good” philosophy of business.
2. There is a small percentage who know right from wrong and ignore what they know. They get so caught up in fear or the lure of expedience that they sacrifice their honor and values in the blind pursuit of their goals.
3. There is another small group who honestly believe that integrity, honor, and ethics have no relevance in business. They don’t trust you and don’t really expect you to trust them.

The last group will not benefit from education about leadership integrity until – like the stubborn horse that refuses to be broken – they receive a figurative whack across the head to get their attention.

Individuals in the first two groups need help with and can learn:
• How to make better decisions that balance the dilemmas presented by multiple constituents with differing goals and values.
• How to effectively communicate with customers, colleagues, and bosses who don’t share their views about what is right in a given situation.
• How to communicate with direct reports with appropriate levels of information and in a way that earns and sustains credibility and trust.
• How to be more consistent with personal and organizational values.
• How to create organizational integrity in products, services, and relationships.

There are two more things I’ve learned:
1. No one openly admits that they don’t have integrity and can’t be trusted.
2. Many companies hesitate to do any education or development on this important topic out of fear that others will think they have a problem.

But, the best companies incorporate the timeless principles of honor, integrity, and ethics into the fabric of everything they do. That’s why you rarely see their name associated with a scandal.

An integrity-driven culture makes companies more profitable and leaders more effective. Ironically, another article in the same edition of the magazine reported that CFO’s saw integrity as the most important trait they look for in selecting a leader.

I am in the camp that you can and must teach leaders about integrity if you want to earn the long-term trust and credibility that leads to lasting results.

What do you think?

About the Author:

Randy Pennington
Randy Pennington is an award-winning author and a leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To learn more or to hire Randy for your next meeting, visit www.penningtongroup.com or call 972-980-9857.