One of the best parts of working and leading in higher education, for me, is the ability to make a difference. Whatever role any of us have, whatever division or department we work in, each one of us has the opportunity to make a difference in our student’s lives. In fact, I believe our integrity depends on being able to look ourselves in the mirror each day and answer yes to this question. ”Did my work today contribute to education?”
Many days our normal work allows us to say yes and demonstrate our commitment to our values by making a difference. Other times, as leaders, it is our responsibility to challenge both ourselves and the people on our teams to look at our work differently.
In that spirit I want to share with you a challenge from educational researcher Sugata Mitra. He was the winner of the 2013 TED Prize at the 2013 TED conference. Sugata pushes us to consider a huge transformation in our educational system: Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE) that do not include teaching. Like many TED Talks, I found this to be a fantastic source of inspiration and challenge.
What is your reaction to his idea? As a leader, I sometimes struggle with ideas that feel extreme to me. I worry about the logistics of implementation or how others might react. Yet, demonstrating integrity can mean moving ahead in spite of questions or difficulties. If I act in accordance with my values and look for a contribution to education, I am able to “get on with it.”
“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” – Warren Buffett
Over the past month, we have explored the importance of cultivating integrity in yourself and modeling it for others. As leaders, we also have a responsibility to hire others with integrity. But how can you recognize such an important quality during the interview process?
First, ask good behavioral questions that elicit examples from a job candidate. Behavioral questions are based on the premise that past behavior is a future predictor; in other words, if someone has behaved a certain way in the past, they are most likely to repeat that behavior in the future. Examples of good behavioral questions that can elicit responses from candidates include:
- Tell me about a specific time when you were confronted with a potentially difficult situation which challenged your sense of fairness or ethics. What did you do?
- A strong sense of ethics and integrity are critical to the success of any leader. Tell me about a situation that tested your ethical and moral foundation. What was the challenge and how did you respond to it?
- Tell me about a time when you kept commitment even when it was difficult to do so.
- Discuss an instance when you could not honor a commitment or a promise. How did you manage the situation and communicate with the affected individuals or group?
- Give an example of how you became informed of relevant laws, rules and regulations in order to accomplish a specific initiative or goal.
- What actions have you taken when you observed or were made aware of someone breaking rules or acting without integrity?
- Tell me about a mistake you have made on the job. What did you do after you made the mistake?
In addition to the interview, be sure to check with a candidate’s references, where you can ask additional questions.
As I was thinking about what to write today, I received a journal article that talked about the importance of role models. The authors studied a group of business students and found that when it comes to ethical behavior, the students relied at least as much on what they saw leaders do as what they were told. Further, it’s not the executive leaders who serve as day-to-day role models when it comes to ethical behavior, it’s immediate supervisors and coworkers.
The authors pointed out that leaders are being watched – they guide others’ behavior whether or not they intend to. A friend told me a story that illustrates this point. She was consulting with the local branch of an international firm. One day the CEO visited the office and was taken on a tour. After admiring the well-kept building and comfortable office space, he commented that the lobby would be an excellent place for a fountain. After the CEO left, staff began making plans and collecting bids to build a lobby fountain. My friend was surprised at how far the project went before someone clarified that the CEO didn’t actually want a fountain – he was just making an observation.
As we take on more leadership responsibility, our words and actions take on more weight. The fountain experience had no major consequences (although I’m sure someone would have had problems once they tried to justify funding). But what if the CEO had said, “I need you to finish the project by the end of the month. I know the approval process usually takes longer than that, but figure it out.” Comments like that can lead people to cut corners or take ethical shortcuts in order to do what they think is required.
If employees see a pattern of unethical leadership shortcuts, they are more likely to take unethical actions themselves. On the other hand, if employees see their leaders displaying respect and integrity, they will model that behavior with each other. If leaders are consistent and transparent, then they are more likely to be given the truth in return.
What kind of a role model are you?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Reference: Hanna, R.C., Crittenden, V.L., & and Crittenden, W.F., (2013). Social Learning Theory: A Multicultural Study of Influences on Ethical Behavior. Journal of Marketing Education published online 31 January 2013
What does delivery have to do with integrity, our focus for this month? Think back to the last time you were so worn out you had to order take-out to be delivered to your home. The work day had lasted longer than you expected, nothing was prepared for dinner, no left-overs and no time. Hungry, and needing some food you make the call, wait for the food, open up the box after the delivery person leaves – and – it is the wrong order! Poof, there goes all your trust in that service.
The same applies to us as leaders. The people on your team count on you and pay attention to what you promise. In fact, delivering is as much as a character issue as it is a competence issue. In our system we include “deliver what you promise” in our definition of leadership integrity. I clearly remember a manager of mine who excelled in this respect. It wasn’t the large events that stick in my mind but the smaller deliveries she made. When she scheduled a meeting, she was prepared for it. Our 1-1’s did not get “bumped.” When she said, “I will get back to you,” she did! We didn’t always agree on the best solution or on the next steps in a project but I trusted her and I had faith in her integrity. I knew she would deliver. As a leader, I need to stay focused on what I promise to deliver, even if priorities shift or new projects get added to my plate. The people I lead are counting on my delivery so they can do their work.
How would people rate your delivery service?
“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
To recognize President’s Day, here is a quote from Abraham Lincoln.
This quote certainly fits with Todd’s post on how we all cast leadership shadows with each small action. Our reputation is built on the actions people see.
I need to ask the character question: does my behavior line up with the values I hold most dear? Do my actions show that my character is the real thing?
I recently learned about a story told by John Ortberg, senior pastor of a large church in California. He is a popular speaker and author within his professional circles, giving keynote talks at leadership events and routinely preaching to his congregation of over 4,000 people. But apparently he wasn’t always an accomplished speaker. Ortberg attributed his success to an influential mentor in his life, John F. Anderson.
As a young seminary student, Ortberg participated in an internship at Anderson’s church. The first time he got up to speak in public, he fainted. Anderson encouraged him and gave him a second chance. Ortberg fainted again. He figured that would be the end of things, but Anderson picked him up and gave him a third chance. Again, he fainted!
Ortberg told about being called into Anderson’s office. Certain he was about to be fired, he was surprised when Anderson said, “you are going to speak again next week. If you faint again, then you’ll speak the week after that. You are going to learn to speak in public if it kills you.” Ortberg praised the way Anderson persevered as a coach and mentor, helping him gain the confidence he needed to succeed.
This was an inspiring story, but what made it even more fun is that I know John F. Anderson. That is exactly the sort of thing that I’d expect him to do. He has mentored and supported many people, and will someday leave a legacy of lives he has influenced for the better. I heard Ortberg’s story at an event in which Anderson was present. At the end, everyone applauded in spontaneous appreciation of the kind of leader that Anderson has been.
Looking back on my role as a leader, I wonder if I have made the same sort of difference. Do I see the potential in people and nurture it? Are there successful leaders out there who would credit me with part of their success? How often have I been patient enough to give people a second chance, let alone a third one?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Who can deny the importance of integrity? Who would dare to not list integrity as a defining characteristic of leadership? It just sounds like the right thing to say. We have all read the headlines describing leaders who acted without integrity and destroyed their careers or damaged their reputations or the reputation of their organizations. Yet most of our day-to-day leadership choices are much more mundane and pedestrian – not likely to get a mention in a headline, or even a Facebook status update or a tweet!
However, I believe that it is in these smaller moments that integrity is even more important for leaders. As leaders we cast shadows. Our day-to-day behaviors and how they are viewed by others influence the people we lead and their belief in our organizations. People on your team will assign deep motives to each and every action you take. As a leader your actions send messages about what is important and valued, even when you think you are just “doing your job.”
In my work, I’ve learned that the small daily actions I take make a much bigger impression than I am often aware. As leaders, these actions demonstrate our integrity to those we work with. I still remember the time when a team member shared how important it was to him that I rescheduled a planning meeting. He had mentioned briefly how hard it was for him to get to the meeting due to his child care drop-off schedule. For me it just required a quick calendar search and it didn’t seem like a big deal. But it was to him. He told me it was the first time a leader had ever made a change for him. A small day-to-day choice by me cast a very large shadow that made a big difference for another person. That is how I define integrity as a leader.
What small choices are you making that demonstrate your integrity?
As we’ve been exploring integrity this month, I’ve been thinking about how integrity goes much more beyond honesty and truthfulness of our actions. For me, to lead with integrity means that I fully live my values. And that, my friend, is easier said than done.
Living your values seems to be more of a continuous journey than something you choose to do or not do. One of the values that I continue to work on is developing the potential in others. I am so fortunate to be in a talent management role where I can enact that value every day by encouraging others to continue their professional development and seek leadership opportunities that utilize their strengths. There is nothing more satisfying than when I can celebrate a colleague’s accomplishment in completing a degree, obtaining a promotion, or achieving success in their role and know that I’ve helped to support them in some way.
Author Brian Tracy captures this concept of living your values well, saying:
“Once you have decided that you are going to live consistent with a value, your level of integrity determines whether or not you follow through on your commitment. The more you discipline yourself to live consistent with the very best you know, the greater is your level of personal integrity. And the higher your level of integrity, the happier and more powerful you will feel in everything you do.”
If you are interested in doing a little reflection about your values there are many values clarification assessments tools that you can use. Here is a free assessment that you can complete online: http://www.lifevaluesinventory.org/
Another helpful tool can be found at “This I Believe,” an international organization that engages people in writing and sharing essays that describe the core values that guide their daily lives. You can find it at: http://thisibelieve.org/
How often have you done or said something and then wished you could take it back? Unfortunately, we usually can’t imitate Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka and ask people to “strike that, reverse it.”
One of the more challenging aspects of Acting with Integrity is to admit and learn from our mistakes. I’ve made a couple of public missteps over the past year, as I suppose is inevitable when learning to communicate in a new organizational culture. Fortunately, one can’t die of embarrassment and colleagues are usually kind enough to give you a pass, assuming the same thing doesn’t happen again.
There are a couple of aspects of learning from my mistakes that have been significant this past year. First, I’ve had to avoid the temptation to block out a bad memory and just pretend the mistake never happened. By doing so, I would miss an opportunity to grow as a leader. On the other hand, at some point I need to address it as best as I can and then move on. Dwelling on past mistakes is equally harmful to leadership development.
Second, I’ve learned a lot from thoughtful colleagues who have had the grace to give me difficult feedback in a constructive way. It’s very difficult to say “I know it isn’t what you intended, but here’s how that behavior looked to others.” For the receiver, constructive feedback can also be hard to hear. But backing away from defensiveness and listening carefully can provide valuable insights into our blind spots and allow for growth that can’t come any other way.
Mostly, you can learn from your mistakes without turning into a blueberry along the way.
Dee Anne Bonebright
One of my favorite books on ethics is How Good People Make Tough Choices, by Rushworth Kidder. In it, he discusses the difficulty of deciding between two answers when both are right.
“When good people encounter tough choices, it is rarely because they’re facing a moral temptation. Only those living in a moral vacuum will be able to say, “On the one hand is the good, the right, the true, and noble. On the other hand is the awful, the wicked, the false, and the base. And here I stand, equally attracted to each.” (p. 17)
Rather, Kidder says that the really tough choices are between alternatives that are equally right and good. For example, how do you choose between the individual and the community, or between justice and mercy? As a supervisor, how do you choose between consistency on the one hand, and respect for individual differences on the other? If you’ve attended our workshops on managing polarities, then you’re familiar with this concept.
Kidder makes a convincing case for the importance of what he calls “ethical fitness” for helping leaders to manage these dilemmas. This includes:
- the ability to recognize moral challenges and respond from an active conscience,
- a “lively perception” of the difference between right and wrong, and
- the ability to make right choices and live by them.
Ethical fitness enables us to implement February’s leadership competency, acting with integrity. Like any other form of fitness, it requires exercise. It’s not a goal to be achieved and marked off the checklist, it’s an ongoing process.
For me, ethical fitness requires understanding my personal values and being intentional about acting them out in the workplace. I can choose to demonstrate respect when responding to the employee who misses a key deadline – for the third time in a month. I can reflect on the example of a leader who expresses dissenting opinions in a constructive way. I can listen and learn when someone gives me feedback about times when I fall short. These activities help me exercise my integrity so that it is in shape when it’s needed to resolve a difficult dilemma.
What do you do to enhance your ethical fitness?
Dee Anne Bonebright