Monthly Archives: February 2016

Talking straight

lincoln“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” – Abraham Lincoln

In her blog last Friday, DeeAnne wrote about the importance of following through on your commitments to demonstrate integrity. Equally important to integrity is the act of just talking straight as leaders. In order to inspire trust from followers, leaders need to not only tell the truth, but leave the right impression.

With Super Tuesday approaching tomorrow, it seems we are in the thick of things with presidential candidates who are not talking straight. These leaders posture and position, some seem to withhold information or use double-talk, and most of them spin their communications to manipulate the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others in search of votes. After listening to sound bite after sound bite in the news, I’m left in a quandary with who to trust and who to put my support behind.

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey talks about the importance of talking straight. He describes talking straight as, “…honesty in action….based on the principles of integrity and straightforwardness.” Covey points to Warren Buffett as a prime example of someone who communicates things in a straightforward, honest way, without any spin. Every year, Buffett writes a management letter for his company’s annual report. In it, he doesn’t do what most organizations do.  He doesn’t try to put things in the most positive light or spin the story, so that people think better of him. He talks straight and reports honestly. Here are a few examples of what Warren Buffett has written in the past:

  • I’ve made this kind of deal a few times myself–and, on balance, my actions have cost you money.
  • I didn’t do that job very well last year. My hope was to make several multibillion acquisitions that would add new and significant streams of earnings to the many we already have. But I struck out.
  • Rather than address the situation head-on, however, I wasted several years while we attempted to sell the operation….Fault me for dithering.

Wow! Now that’s integrity. Buffett just lays it bare. And communicates honestly.

As a leader, what can you do to make sure that you are talking straight?

Anita Rios



Delivering what is promised

I will think about itOne of the things I like about our MnSCU leadership competencies is that the definition of integrity includes delivering on what is promised.

I’ve known leaders who were great at generating ideas, or even generating work for other people, but really bad at follow-through. After a while, I tended to discount what they said, because I knew that it might never happen. No matter how many other aspects of integrity they demonstrated, their effectiveness was compromised.

On the other hand, I once worked with an administrative assistant that was great at follow-through. Things didn’t fall through the cracks. If I asked her to do something I could forget about it, because I was confident it would be done. What a great leadership skill!

Like most of us, I fall somewhere in the middle. Here are a few tips I’ve gathered over the years.

Find an organization system that works for you. There is a whole range of electronic options to help you keep track of what you’ve promised. For some things, I still like a paper to-do list that I can doodle on. One useful trick is to note action items with a check box. When I’m looking back at meeting notes the empty box acts as a reminder that I promised to do something.

Work around your weak spots.  What kind of situations challenge your follow-through? For me, it’s conversations on the elevator. If I’m on my way to another meeting, the odds of remembering our conversation are small. I often ask people to send me a follow-up reminder of what we talked about, or else I’ll note it on a to-do list as soon as possible.

Set small deadlines and reminders. It can be helpful to break things down into small steps and record them on a calendar. For example, my recent entries include “Did Jeff send catering info? Discuss with Deb,” and “Check Doodle re: meet on 17th or 18th? Pick one and find a room.” These details are important, but not very memorable. By noting them on the appropriate date I’m more likely to keep the ball rolling.

What tricks have you found to help you deliver on what you promised?

Dee Anne Bonebright





Vulnerability and integrity

My vulnerability to my own life is irrefutable. Nor do I wish it to be otherwise, as vulnerability is a guardian of integrity.
— Anne Truitt, sculptor and psychologist.

TT facilitatingIt is scary to be vulnerable! In fact, that is why I like being the facilitator rather than a participant. When I am in the front of the room I am always prepared and ready for what is next. I won’t be asked to share and I won’t be caught off guard.

Leaders face the same issue with being vulnerable. It can be hard to share that you don’t have all the answers or that you have made a mistake. You may fear that your uncertainty or missteps will be used against you or cause others to lose confidence in you. Yet that same fear can sabotage your ability to demonstrate your integrity.

Charles Feltman, author of The Thin Book of Trust, puts it this way. “When you wear a mask of invulnerability people won’t trust that they can be open with you. At work this can translate into withholding ideas, information or important feedback. If you don’t let any of your own vulnerabilities show people may see you as strong, but will also question your ability to really care about them and their interests.”

Feltman encourages leaders to be “authentically vulnerable” by acknowledging to people that you:

  • have cares
  • have concerns
  • have fears
  • sometimes make mistakes
  • wrestle with issues

To be an effective leader you must balance this type of vulnerability with competence. People need to have confidence that you can do your job, as well as see you as a real person who is vulnerable and trustworthy. That is integrity in action.

When was the last time you shared a real concern, or talked about a mistake you made, with someone on your team? How did it go?

Todd Thorsgaard




Giving credit to others

credit 2“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” – Arnold H. Glasow

Much of my work today and the work of most leaders in higher education gets done through collaborative efforts with others. I can’t think of one major project I’ve worked on lately that hasn’t required strategic thinking and input from others, co-writing or co-editing, group planning, or team facilitation and implementation. That said, I’ve been very cognizant about the importance of giving credit to others.

When rolling out a new program, launching an event, or producing a new product or resource for leaders in our colleges and universities, I’ve found it essential to acknowledge the contributions of others. It increases transparency in the process and it generates goodwill and a sense of ownership and pride among those who have contributed to the effort.

Still, it can be easy to overlook giving credit to others.

Just last week, I was consulting with a colleague who has been editing a training handbook. The creation of the 50-page handbook has taken more than nine months in the making and has involved numerous contributing writers, editors, and proofreaders. I noticed that there was a brief acknowledgement of the committee that had led the work, but it was buried at the end of the publication. It also didn’t include the names of those who had contributed significant investment of time in writing the content, nor a mention of my colleague’s essential role either.

After our talk, my colleague moved the acknowledgements up to the inside cover of the handbook and included the names and roles of each contributor, giving them proper credit for their work.

It was a simple oversight. Yet, not giving credit to others could call into question the integrity of the project leader or the project itself.

What do you do to make sure you are giving credit where credit is due? Where might you need to think more carefully about giving credit to others?

Anita Rios




A slippery slope!

Black-diamond-slope-300x210The harsh reality is that small actions can send leaders down the slippery slope that destroys personal and professional integrity! Barbara Killinger, in her book, Integrity:Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reason  says,  “Integrity is built one small step at a time, yet it can slip away seemingly overnight. The popular expression: “Don’t sweat the small stuff”….. is bad advice.”

Killinger highlights that the small stuff includes choices leaders personally make on a day-to-day basis, including:

  1. Choosing to use appropriate ways to express frustration or anger when perceiving an injustice
  2. Choosing to be reliable and predictable as a leader
  3. Choosing to be loyal to our people and their lives
  4. Choosing to listen carefully to all points of view, particularly dissenting ideas
  5. Choosing to be well informed
  6. Choosing to learn from mistakes, both their own and others

She reminds leaders that the intensity and pressure of performing at a high level and needing to respond to the enormous challenges in higher education can encourage or nudge small but consequential choices that actually destroy integrity.

To safeguard yourself , a deep breath is required and a purposeful choice, even in the small stuff.

LutsenMy daughter and I enjoy skiing tricky terrain when we visit the upper peninsula in Michigan. We’ve found that black diamond trails can be exhilarating, but they can also be dangerous. As with the small choices leaders make every day, we make purposeful choices to avoid falling down a slippery slope!

Todd Thorsgaard





Communicating with integrity

Ethical PersuasionAbout 20 years ago someone gave me a little book that I still have on my shelf. It’s called The Power of Ethical Persuasion by Tom Rusk, M.D. There are several reasons why I like it as a guide to communicating with integrity.

First, the author makes the point that feelings are facts. For many of us, it’s easier to make leadership decisions that seem to be objective and rational. Considering feelings is harder. Rusk makes the point that leadership is about relationships, and relationships, at heart, are based on feelings. In order to have ongoing communication we need to understand the feelings that are involved and where they might be coming from.

Second, Rusk provides a three-step model for communication that can be very effective. It’s not new – there are many similar models out there – but it’s easy to use as a reminder when things get heated.

Step 1: Explore the other person’s viewpoint.  Take time to reach mutual understanding before jumping into problem solving. Listen for understanding of the other person’s thoughts, opinions, and emotions. You don’t have to agree; just re-state their views until they feel confident you understand. It’s amazing how often people just want to feel heard.

Step 2: Explain your viewpoint. Once you understand the other person’s view, ask them to listen to yours. Explain how their behaviors and feelings affect you, without blaming or being defensive. Explain things as your truth, not the truth.

Step 3: Seek resolution.  Once you understand each other’s views, then it’s time for problem solving. You may have discovered areas of agreement where you can start moving forward. If not, consider alternatives such as:

  • Seeking a neutral third party to help continue the dialogue
  • Brainstorm multiple options, then meet again later after taking some time to consider them
  • Compromise between alternate solutions
  • Take turns generating solutions
  • Defer to the other person if the issue is not a core value for you
  • Use your positional power to generate a solution after respectfully considering their viewpoints
  • Agree to disagree

I’ve used many of Rusk’s suggested resolutions over the years and they have been helpful. What are some of your favorite tools for communicating with integrity?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Viewpoints from presidents

integrity presidentsHappy Presidents’ Day! Last Thursday, I was having lunch with some colleagues from our colleges and universities. Since it was right after the New Hampshire primary, some of our conversation turned to the current presidential race.

Several colleagues remarked about the frontrunners in the presidential race and expressed amazement that the two non-establishment candidates, with some of the most extreme viewpoints, have the most support. Another colleague said she thought they have more support because people trust that “what you see is what you get.” Those candidates don’t seem to be hiding anything or spinning their messages to satisfy constituents. Their behavior and messages are congruent and in that sense, have integrity. Interesting thought….

For your edification, I thought I’d collect some quotes from various presidents throughout history that shine a light on the importance of integrity in leadership. Enjoy and have a terrific Presidents Day!

“Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” – George Washington

“It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.” – Martin Van Buren

“An honorable defeat is better than a dishonorable victory.” – Millard Fillmore

“My failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent.” –  Ulysses S. Grant

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“Character is the only secure foundation of the state.” – John Calvin Coolidge

“Above all, tell the truth.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

“That’s all a man can  hope for during his lifetime – to set an example-and when he is dead, to be an inspiration for history.” – William McKinley

“A splendid storehouse of integrity and freedom has been bequeathed to us by our forefathers. In this day of confusion, of peril to liberty, our high duty is to see that this storehouse is not robbed of its contents.” – Herbert Hoover

“A president’s hardest task is not to do what is right, but to know what is right.” – Lyndon Baines Johnson

“We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.” – Jimmy Carter

“If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.” – Bill Clinton

Anita Rios


Ethical danger zones

dangerLast week I shared some articles about actions leaders can take to build and sustain ethical cultures. Here are some tips from the Society for Human Resource Management to help you know when it’s not working and your organization  might be entering a danger zone.

Conflicting goals: Unsustainable objectives or conflicting expectations can cause employees to lose faith in organizational ethics. For example, if staff are being asked to provide higher levels of one-on-one service while at the same time experiencing layoffs it can appear that values are in conflict.

Fear of retaliation:  Years ago I knew an organization whose leader had a history of removing people who disagreed with her. It only took a few examples for people to stop sharing their opinions. Even in less drastic situations, people can hesitate to advocate for ethical choices if they are afraid of personal consequences.

Avoidance:  For a variety of reasons, leaders sometimes put off dealing with ethical lapses. Allowing unethical behavior to continue sends a message to employees that adherence to standards isn’t a high priority.

Lowered thresholds: Ethical lapses usually don’t happen all at once. If one person routinely pushes the standards just a little bit, it’s easier for the next person to push it just a little further. Leaders can then find themselves dealing with a culture that allows questionable behaviors to occur.

Do you experience any of these ethical danger zones in your leadership work? How have you managed them?

Dee Anne Bonebright


Society for HR Management (SHRM): Creating an Ethical Workplace

The intersection of integrity and pride

by guest blogger Leslie Bleskachek

cslewis700208The author C.S. Lewis is credited as saying “integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” This suggests we have an internal moral compass, a sense of purpose and pride in what we are doing. As educational professionals, we all take pride in what we do, and take pride in doing it well. But it’s important to remember that our pride can also have a dark side.

Pride can go too far. Sometimes, if we want to be in the spotlight, pride can keep us from giving public credit for a teammate’s great work. Or, perhaps we want to hide from scrutiny. As Marvin Williams said “there is no better test of a man’s integrity than his behavior when he is wrong.” Pride can get in the way if we are too proud to admit we’ve made a mistake. We might try and cover it up, or blame others to move the sense of shame from ourselves. Our Leadership Competencies remind us that to be a person of integrity, we must keep in mind where integrity and pride intersect. At our best, our integrity shows when we take pride in good work, are honest and law-abiding, delivering what we promised. But we also have to set aside our pride, admit when we make a mistake, correct it, and learn from it.

Perhaps it’s time to update that old saying, with apologies to C. S. Lewis. After all, integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching. . . and also when everyone is watching.

Leslie Bleskachek

Leslie is the Vice President Academic Affairs at Minnesota State College – Southeast Technical which has campuses in Winona and Red Wing, Minnesota. She is currently participating in the yearlong MnSCU Executive Leader Development Program. During the last seminar leadership integrity was discussed and Leslie asked to share her insights with the readers of Higher EDge.


Seven keys to maintaining integrity

integrity pen“I look for three things in hiring people. The first is personal integrity, the second is intelligence, and the third is a high energy level. But, if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you” – Warren Buffet

In December 2008, Bernie Madoff admitted to a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme that sent him to prison for 150 years. Last week, like lots of other TV viewers, my husband and I watched the two-part series documenting Madoff’s fraudulent business practices. It provided lots of food for conversation about sociopathic behavior and yes, a lack of integrity in leadership. While Madoff provides an extreme example of someone lacking integrity, leaders can easily derail their careers when they fail to maintain their integrity. And it can be something as simple as letting your ego grow as you experience more success in your career.

So, how can leaders avoid derailment? Nancy Reece, senior consultant and speaker with The Human Capital Group, outlines seven keys for men and women who want to maintain integrity as they lead.

  1. Identify your core values. Ask yourself what mat­ters most in your life? Write down each of those values in your own terms then prioritize them. It’s easy to get off course and derail if we don’t have a moral compass for our leadership.
  2. Identify your Achilles’ heel. Every­one has a weakness. For Bernie Madoff, his weakness was power. Being raised in a poor Jewish community, he never wanted anyone to feel sorry for him, ever again. Identify your weakness, or the spot where there is a chink in your armor. Write it down in black and white and acknowledge your vulnerability.
  3. Play “what if.” Once you’ve identified your Achilles’ heel, imagine what would happen if you got caught. What would you say to your family? What would the headline in tomorrow’s paper be? A well-thought-out session of “what if ” can make real the potential consequences of falling prey to a lack of integrity.
  4. Enable “ketchup conversations.” Suppose you go out to lunch, eat a hamburger and get ketchup on your chin. You then go to meet with your direct reports in the afternoon. When you arrive home and walk through the door, your spouse says, “You have ketchup on your chin.” Your first thought is: “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” The better question for leaders to ask is this: “Did I create a safe space for someone to tell me?”
  5. Have courageous friends. Real friends have the guts and the courage to get in your face when they see you doing something wrong. Real friends are ones you can share your Achilles’ heel with. They will challenge you, encourage you, and be honest with you. Cou­rageous friends can help you maintain your integrity only if you are open and honest with them about your struggles, your weaknesses and your ego. They’ll let you know when you have ketchup on your face.
  6. Identify and counteract stress. Lead­ing involves constant challenges that can cause stress. The more stress we’re under, the easier it is to fall prey to your Achille’s heel. Being able to identify when you are experiencing stress and acknowledging that you are more vulnerable during this time builds protec­tive barriers that will enable you to lead with integrity.
  7. Become an integrity fanatic. Be passionate about doing the right thing. When you make a poor choice, don’t cover it up or put image first. Admit your mistake and make it right.

Which of the seven keys resonates most with you? Where might you want to focus your efforts to ensure that you are maintaining your integrity?

Anita Rios