“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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?