Am I leading with integrity? I ask myself this question very often, do you ask yourself the same question?
Lance Armstrong was sitting in the same room with Oprah Winfrey, and the audience knew that his legacy was about to be demolished. There was a yellow candle on his left, yellow is the color that he made famous by associating it with fighting cancer. This is the man who defeated cancer, overcame all the odds and won seven Tour de France but he could not resist the temptation of cheating in order to be few seconds faster than his teammates and his opponents. His body language was painful to watch, and his eyes were dazed. He finally confirmed the audience suspicion and admitted that he used performance-enhancing drugs for a very long time.
Did Armstrong fail the integrity test?
It is clear that Armstrong failed. Part of being a leader is understanding that your action has consequences on other peoples’ lives. The main quality any leader should have is integrity. At the core of integrity is being honest, moral, ethical, trustworthy person. All of these qualities that Armstrong failed to live up to. He devastated the yellow bracelet movement that he built throughout his career. I have friends that used to wear the bracelet, and they are no longer identify themselves by the yellow bracelet. The yellow bracelet was a defiant symbol against cancer, a bold gesture that cancer will be crushed.
Bernard Madoff ran a Ponzi scheme, Volkswagen deceived the EPA by installing software’s in their cars to appear green friendly. I can count many other examples of people, leaders and companies failed the integrity test. Why do people keep failing this test?
The integrity test is not a specific code of conduct; it is set of principles that every person should follow in order to create a better work environment and a better world. If leaders ask themselves the following questions, they would pass the integrity test:
First question: Am I being honest with myself, and others?
Honesty is underrated value. Khaled Hosseini wrote in his bestselling book The Kite Runner “When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness” So if you are honest with yourself, family, followers and your team, you know that you are leading with integrity. It is clear that Armstrong was not honest with himself, family, followers or his team. Armstrong stole the truth and lost his moral compass to be few seconds faster than others. Are you honest with yourself and your family?
Second question: Am I consistent?
Leaders with integrity are very consistent, they know how they are going to behave in every situation. Leaders should keep reminding themselves of the things that they will always do, and the things that they will never do. They need to be committed to doing the right thing and committed to impacting their organizations beyond their job description. Establish yours red lines list, so when you are in a situation that requires you to compromise, you know how to behave. Walk the talk, be consistent with your words and your action, nothing establishes your moral authority faster than walking the talk. Keep reminding yourself that you have to follow the rules that you establish. If you are not willing to follow your own rules, do not mandate others to follow them. Be consistent.
These are the two questions that I ask myself often when I am faced with difficult decisions. My top priority is to protect my moral authority because I understand once I sacrifice my moral authority, I lose my respect and place myself and my organization in a horrible place.
To achieve sustainable success, you have to establish your own questions or answer these two questions. You will also have to understand that contrary to the popular belief there is no correlation between integrity and success. Leaders who lack integrity have the potential to reach their goals faster but once they reach their goals they find themselves living an unsustainable life. Do not be intoxicated with short-term success and do not compromise your integrity. Your top priority should be protecting your integrity and your organization integrity. If you have any doubt ask John Edwards, US Senator that was destined to be the torch holder of the Democratic party. He sacrificed his integrity and he has not been able to regain it, he hired top PR firms, but he still struggling to regain his foot in the public arena.
Integrity is about doing the right thing; ethics is about following the rules, and effective leaders understand how to distinguish between these two terms.
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