One of the things I am asked about most is, “What sets some leaders apart from others?” We examine that in a new book we’re writing. I submit to you that Integrity is a lifestyle of the Complete Leader and what sets a Complete Leader apart from many of his/her contemporaries. This is a “foundational character trait” that becomes a part of who the leader is–there is no equivocation with a Complete Leader whose foundation is set and strong. It is in place, and on display, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year (24/7/365). 

Integrity is etched into our character early on in life. The key to integrity, and many other values, is what the parents, and to a lesser degree, role models are willing to negotiate as acceptable/not acceptable. Those individuals leave an imprint on us about appropriate behavior. This imprint instills in us to stand by our word, our decisions, and our beliefs. It is a roadmap to success in the business world, and in life, in general. It becomes a critical essence of our DNA and thus, is a key value for us as individuals and leaders. A statement you may have heard from a leader with integrity is, “you can take it to the bank.” Many other leader traits like courage, truthfulness, genuineness, and honesty are subcomponents of integrity. Integrity is standing for what’s right, even in the face of overwhelming adversity, or forces against doing what is right.  

Can we develop integrity if we are beyond our formative early years?  In theory, yes, but very difficult. Again, most of our values are shaped and inculcated in our early childhood years by parents and key role models. It is at this time that humans are most impressionable. To go back and reverse years of little-to-no accountability or standards, would require some very intense psychological maneuvering due to the role of our subconscious. However, it can, and sometimes does, happen.

Have we seen a decline in integrity in our leaders today? Well, I’m old school and would naturally say “Yeah”!  Not to get into a generational argument here, but as generations evolve, we see a continuous testing of the waters by the upcoming generation. Let us all keep in mind that one generation raises the next generation, so the ownership of the next generation belongs much to the parenting generation as they set the standards of where the values will lie—they plant the seeds of integrity, and other foundational traits. What did our generation fail to do that led to this decline in integrity? Were we too busy with our careers? Did we want to be our children’s friend more than holding them accountable? What has changed in our society over the past 30 years? 

What can we do to restore integrity in today’s society? First, place a higher value on integrity.  In an increasing number of cases played out in the media, it has become about who can, or who does, win—whether it be a contest or an argument. Integrity be damned. I believe we can restore the value integrity used to have, but it will take hard work on everyone’s part. The older generations must play an important role in this improvement by seeking out the younger generations, for mentoring and coaching them on many of the values that they may have missed out on or did not learn, for whatever reason. Let’s get it right by working on values with our younger generations. It could start with our grandchildren (those that have them), as grandparents play such an important, pivotal role with them. This is not the time to give up folks!

However, it cannot be one-sided. The younger generations have to step up–wake up and smell reality! Pay more attention to how your parents, and your grandparents behave and act in important situations, and not-so-important situations. Your grandfather received more change at the checkout than he should have. I’ll bet you he gave it back to the cashier. That right there is an important lesson in integrity. Your parents and grandparents were young once, too. They have learned a lot about life and integrity on that journey. They WANT to help you and are only waiting for you to ask. Sometimes the hardest thing in life is to ask for help because you have been raised to ‘figure it out’ by asking the internet for solutions.  

Not all things can be taught to the degree in which they need to be learned from the wisdom of the internet. Again, many of these leadership traits are embedded into who you are, they are in your DNA/your individual code. Therefore, the way you learn traits, such as Integrity, is slowly over time by watching those good examples around you. Many of us have grown up with poor examples of integrity so we are willing to compromise our values because it’s what we were exposed to. We are a product of our environment, the good and the bad. As adults, we have a choice.  We always have a choice to change and do the right thing. This is an individual decision we must all make once we turn 18. What type of an adult am I going to be from here on out? This question will be one that you ask yourself periodically throughout your life to make sure you are still on the good path. People falter, make mistakes and no one is perfect, but when it happens, we all need to pick ourselves up, dust off the failure and move forward. We must continue to strive for excellence in all we do, in all aspects of our lives. We don’t check our integrity at the door, when we clock out for the day at work. Or vice versa, we don’t leave our integrity at home and then come to work and play candy crush, text with our friends, take long lunches, go to the gym and never get any work done all day and collect a paycheck.  Someone is always watching. The younger generations especially are always watching. They observe and critique more boisterously. They want to see the example to follow. They don’t want to be influenced by “do as I say, not as I do” any longer. We, as the senior generation, want what is best for you, and the younger generations to come. As the older, leading generation, we must pick up this mantle and show them the right way to lead their families, to lead their teams at work, to lead their neighbors in their community. We are all in this together, and we all want what is best for the next generation and the generation after that. I implore you to take up this mantle of responsibility and help me restore integrity back into our society. How do we accomplish such a task? We start in our own homes, with our own children and grandchildren. 

It won’t change overnight

Integrity is a lifestyle. Just like any new life change (i.e., a new diet or exercise program), the chances of a slip up are decently high. Just because we ate something we weren’t supposed to or skipped a day in our new workout regimen, doesn’t mean we give up. If it is something to which we have dedicated ourselves completely, we get back on the bandwagon and try a little bit harder. Having a leader that leads by example, sets the standards, can promote accountability and balance in the office. Introducing core values into a company that hasn’t identified them is challenging, but not impossible. The same could be stated for companies that have had core values in place, but have never enforced them. When leaders respect the core values put in place by the corporation, younger employees enjoy a more satisfying work environment. It is recommended to choose one thing to focus on at the time. Again integrity is all-encompassing of traits such as honesty, truthfulness, genuineness and courage. Make it well known that this is the core value to focus on this week or month. Be diligent in giving daily examples of integrity. Think about your personal and professional relationships. The people that you have known for years or people that have proven themselves to you over and over, probably exemplify this trait. Either way, that relationship took time to develop. Take the time to invest in the individuals working with and for you. The installation and enforcement of core values within your business is a development process requiring a good deal of patience and commitment, but is always worth the effort.

Stand up for your rights… and their rights, too

Never be afraid to stand up and speak out when you see something going wrong. Often times we feel that little “check” in our gut when we see someone doing something they shouldn’t, or witness policies or systems beating people down. More often than not, this “check” is outweighed by our fear of speaking up, embarrassment or potential backlash. This is a crucial part of having integrity, and it is usually the most difficult part to fully encompass. You may very well be the only person standing in the room or the only person willing to even say anything to your superiors after the meeting. This is what sets apart people of integrity. Many of us all feel that same check in our gut, but few of us will ever do anything about it. Having the confidence and the courage to act on that “check” in your gut is a big part of living with integrity.

Ultimately, in striving to become a Complete Leader with integrity, specifically when coaching Millennials, be encouraged to communicate clearly to be understood. Adjust your approach when speaking to your subordinates. Millennials will more than likely not respond to the same approach you offer to an employee in the 50s or 60s age range. Remember, the younger generation has a different set of priorities than Baby Boomers did. They also have a strong desire to be led by example. They do not want to have rules forced upon them that even their leader refuses to follow. Don’t be afraid of standing up for what is right. Most people would sincerely appreciate being advocated for if the situation presented itself, but Millennials seem to have placed immense importance on it. Lastly, be patient in the process. Integrity is not a trait gained overnight. Integrity is a trait that needs to be practiced and displayed always. It is a core value that a Complete Leader must encompass and have as a foundational element in their lives. 

Published by Mike Diamond

MG (Retired) Mike Diamond is CEO and founder of Diamond Strategy Group. Diamond Strategy Group is a leadership development and consulting company. We focus on improving the quality of leadership within organizations by utilizing the same methods Mike and his consultants have used in both military and civilian sectors.

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