As part of our research into the 4 Pillars of Authentic Leadership, we identified 4 important pillars, which will help leaders to act upon supporting creating trustful and therefore high-performing environment. We did introduce the impact of vulnerability and empathy. The third pillar describes Integrity.
What is Integrity?
We define it as having moral principles and consistently acting upon them.
As a leader, we usually and consistently believe in having moral principles. That is why in companies, we define our corporate values, and we believe to be on the forefront of living those values. However, dynamic and complex environments constantly test our integrity. Of course, we believe all those fancy words we write on the wall. But as soon as we are coming into new situations, our integrity becomes less important.
Let’s put that into an example: Our corporate values might include words such as Community and Respect. Let’s imagine that there is this one person in your company, who constantly is too late for meetings. At some point, you had it all, and you shout at this person to get their act together. How does this behavior reflect on the value of Respect?
Not only the fancy words on the all define our values, but also our behavior before we had our first coffee.
As Bauman defined in 2013, our normal understanding of integrity is a moral understanding: Basing our values and actions on ethical and moral values such as honesty or respect. However, there is also a cognitive view on integrity, which is disconnected from the moral interpretation.
In this interpretation, the focus is on “being consistent”. Regardless of the values being moral or ethical. As an individual, we might have consciously or unconsciously values that foster a focus on individual monetary gain. This might lead us making decisions in our team to favor gain in our bonus over working as a team.
Why should Leaders have integrity?
In his paper, Bauman describes three different faces of leadership integrity: Substantive leadership integrity, formal leadership integrity, and personal leadership integrity.
If you want to increase trust in the working relationship within teams and environments, you need to have an identity-conferring commitment to a particular set of values (as in substantive leadership integrity). Identity-conferring describes the inner monologue on values a leader may have to develop her own identity. So, with substantive leadership integrity, there is a high commitment to this set of values, which are close to who we are as a person.
Those are usually values that members of the group or team expect all its members to avoid violating; You could formalize them as corporate or team values, but they are not limited to them. Remember, our actions define our values; not only by formalizing them in a statement.
Building a trustful environment
According to Bauman’s research, “a leader with substantive leadership integrity cannot only be trusted, but is trustworthy. She is a person who can be trusted not only to do what she has promised, but to stand by moral values even when compromise may provide her with great gain”. People around the leader will recognize that certain behaviors are unacceptable and will feel safe in predicting the leader’s reaction in different situations. The team can trust that the leader will be coherent with her values when making decisions and evaluating others. This feeling of trust is intensified by consistently receiving confirmation from the leader that her integrity is seeded inside her identity, inviting others to follow a similar approach. The integrity of one generates integrity in others, amplifying the power of trust across the organization.
Substantive leadership integrity is different from formal leadership integrity. The latter describes a leader’s commitment to defined values, regardless of whether this is connected to who they are. Basically, leaders just have values on paper, but in reality, they follow a set of undisclosed values (e.g. for personal gain). Showing formal leadership integrity may result into leaders who appear to have integrity. However, when teams understand the discrepancy between the selected values and undisclosed values, trust will decrease. Leaders are likely to be even more isolated.
Personal leadership integrity accounts for cases in which the leader commits to neither moral nor immoral values. This might be values, you commit to as an individual or in your private life – regardless of their impact to your group or team.
What can we do to achieve integrity?
If we consciously want to develop our integrity for increased trust in our team, we should focus on substantive leadership integrity. To achieve that, we suggest, that through the iterations or rhythms you identify your personal values (get inspirations from the Big Value list, which you can download here). Interpret the gap of those chosen values to the defined and lived at your work or in your team. Be consistent and reflect regularly (within your rhythm) on your progress towards closing that gap.
The following questions may help you on this reflection:
- What were your activities making those values visible?
- What were your activities opposite to those values?
- Would there be actions, which would be more authentic to who you are?
- How are your corporate values conflicting with your values?
- What changes to your values are you accepting, when it comes to working with your stakeholders?
- Can you still look at you in the mirror after you made adaptions?
Based on the responses to your questions, you may want to identify 2-3 actions, per iteration, that you would like to change in your daily behavior.
Do you want to learn more?
Do you want to learn more on the impact of integrity to trust and your team? Join our regular trainings on our 4 Pillars, in which we build all 4 pillars continuously and reciprocally.