CEO's Speak on Leadership - Integrity and Courage
by Marie J. Kane

In previous CEO interviews we have explored Vision, Passion, Authenticity and Wisdom. In this article we will consider Integrity and Courage as attributes of leaders. Webster's defines integrity as "soundness, unimpaired, firm adherence to a code of moral or artistic values, incorruptibility." Being sound and unimpaired may seem to apply more to the skin of the space shuttle than to leaders, but leaders' effectiveness is impaired when they are not sound within themselves because that soundness provides the foundation for integrity. Leaders are faced with moral and ethical dilemmas every day. They must ask "What is ethically and morally right and appropriate?" Of equal importance is "What is the universal principle that should control here?" A leader must have an internal gyroscope that will guide him or her to know what is right and proper. It is no small task for the leader to pick the right way through this potential mine field. Pressures for the company to perform in the short-term intensify the opportunity for making expedient, but not necessarily morally and ethically right decisions. Another aspect of integrity is honesty or telling the truth, and that means not lying as well as not withholding the truth by simply not speaking up at all when the moral imperatives of the situation demand speaking out. Last, but not least is keeping your word to customers, employees, bosses, stockholders, customers, vendors or others you touch in the world of your business. Effective, enlightened leaders live in integrity even when it is challenging.

Leaders who operate in integrity create willingness in people to trust and follow them. It is not just in the big things where this is important, but every day in all the little ways. Operating in integrity is pragmatic, but it is essential to remember that is not the reason for acting in integrity. Integrity is its own reason. We begin by leading ourselves in the right way and setting an example and only then can we make a difference in leading others. Courage is of utmost importance in maintaining integrity. It is no accident that the root word of courage comes from the Latin for "heart". It is not surprising then that we find courage to be at the heart of all the other traits of effective leaders. What did our CEO's have to say about Integrity and Courage?

Steve Black, President and CEO, Pathway Communities, Peachtree City, Georgia
Developer of Peachtree City and other premier planned communities.

"I think the number one trait is integrity. If you don't have the values then nothing else is going to happen as far as truly being a leader. People are going to look to you to not only set direction, but to set and communicate parameters as to what is and is not acceptable in getting there."

Ulf Petersson, President, Megadoor, Inc., Peachtree City
Manufacturer and installer of overhead doors for civilian and military aviation, mining, aerospace and others with similar needs.

"Integrity is incredibly important and it should be in your spine. You must make sure that you don't have two sets of values, one for yourself and one for your employees. When you have new people coming into the organization you have to let them know what the values are and make sure they understand. Then the leader has to be a living example. I think that the temptation is there once you are the leader to think that you can do as you please and that no one will notice or object. I think too that there is a lot of talk about being ethical and honest and treating employees and customers right and standing behind the product, but a lot of times companies set a price tag on what's right and wrong. If there is a problem then no matter what the cost is of fixing it, you have to do it. You've got to decide what your values are and then you have to follow them. Leading by example is the most important thing. You can't teach one way and do something else."

L. B. "Bud" Mingledorff, President, Mingledorff's Inc., Norcross
Carrier HVAC distributor for the state of Georgia since 1939 and one of the largest Carrier distributors in the country.

"If you don't have integrity you cannot do business with companies that have integrity. I would say that as a company, having integrity is not only a moral imperative, it is an intense competitive advantage. It opens an arena of customers to you that are not open to those businesses without integrity. Leadership without integrity is impossible. Integrity should be part of your core value system in the company. I also subscribe to the belief that your most dangerous employee is a high performer who lacks integrity. Observe yourself and your employees. Character strength is measurable. The first test of a man's character is what he does when everybody else is seen doing it. If everybody's doing it, does that make it ok? The answer is no. Character strength and integrity are absolutes. The second test of character strength is what do you do when you don't think there's any chance you're going to get caught. The third test is what you do when something does go wrong. Look at things that cause people stress. Look at the things that cause business' stress. Many of them center on a lack of integrity. Integrity centers on the ability to make a commitment and keep it. Integrity will cost you a lot and you've got to be willing to pay that price, but the rewards are tremendous."

"About Courage, a good leader has to have the ability to make tough decisions and also the ability to expect others to make tough decisions. We live in a world of dilemmas. It takes courage to decide to do what's right and not necessarily what feels good and what is fun at the time. I would also define courage as the ability to take a chance provided that the results impact the common good."

The Six Attributes of Effective Leaders Revisited

In summary, to unwaveringly hold a clear vision that illuminates the way for those who follow requires courage in the face of doubt, your own and others. To passionately embrace your vision and values and unflinchingly hold to them, enthusiastically and publicly requires courage. To be authentic requires a special courage for leaders, because being real often means being vulnerable. To live in integrity, holding to what is right and speaking the truth, even in the face of risk or opposition, requires courage. Nothing is more potent than a clear role model coupled with the coaching and encouragement (literally "to provide with courage") to do likewise. Courage provides the foundation for all the other traits of enlightened, effective leaders.

Reflections on Integrity and Courage for Leaders

Do I live and openly role-model integrity in all my dealings?

Do I make the morally and ethically right decision regardless of cost or difficulty?

Have I held to my vision and spoken my truth even in the face of challenges?

Have I modeled owning and learning from my mistakes?

Do I have the courage to share of myself authentically?

Do we have clear values to guide us to make decisions that are not only courageous, but right morally and are all our employees clear about those values?

Do I personally role model values-based courage?

N.B. This article was originally published in Competitive Edge Magazine.

Marie J. Kane has been an executive coach and corporate consultant for 20 years. She specializes in innovative approaches to executive development with a special emphasis on individual and group virtual coaching. She is the author of a comprehensive team assessment and development process, creator of "The Leader's Way" executive development program and a co-creator of an integrated strategic and operational planning process as well as offering state-of-the-art employee selection and development systems integrated with performance management and organizational culture. Marie may be reached at , and visit for additional information.

Articles by Marie J. Kane | Many more articles on Creative Leadership, Competitive Strategy and Executive Performance in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2002 by Marie J. Kane. All rights reserved.

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