The importance of integrity in leadership

In today’s world, we often look for faster ways of getting things done. The magic of technology makes this possible.

And there are all kinds of ways to cut through processes when they start getting in the way of progress.  One thing we can never afford to compromise, however, is the integrity with which we conduct ourselves.

No amount of ability is of the slightest avail without honour – Andrew Carnegie

Good leadership relies on our ability to live our lives with courage, strength of character and honesty. It is harder to do than talk about but without it, leaders can’t thrive for any length of time, regardless of how skilled they may be otherwise.

There have been many prominent leaders who have risen to great heights only to fall with a severe thud because they have acted solely out of self-interest.

These people have suffered from the consequences of a kind of self-absorption, which assumes that power gives them a certain exemption from behaving responsibly and honourably.

What they seem to have ignored, or failed to understand, is that the more powerful we become, the greater is our responsibility to others. And, when leaders go awry of honourable actions, the impact of their behaviour is felt very deeply by people who have had little, if anything, to do with decisions made on their behalf. At these times, honour is offered as a sacrifice to greed and trust is destroyed.

Trust is one of those things that takes a long time to build but only a minute to destroy. As such, it is a thing to be treasured and protected. That’s where strength of character comes in, and where telling the truth and keeping promises become vital.

OK, so we’re all human and who among us has never told a lie? But the consequences of deception and lies often have a greater impact than we think when we first venture into the realm of the untruth. It is a lesson that most of us learn eventually.

There is a certain arrogance in believing that the rules of the universe apply to everyone but me. And, believe me, there have been times when I have been very arrogant indeed – always with a poor result.

Maybe this is what happens to business leaders who come to believe in their own importance to the exclusion of everything else.

Skill and talent can take us only so far. To travel the rest of the way, we must make sure we bring with us a large measure of honourable intent, concern for the welfare of others and the willingness and courage to do what is right, even when it means giving up something we want very badly. That’s what makes it so hard.

One of my favourite movies is Scent of a Woman. In it, Al Pacino’s character makes a declaration that speaks to exactly how difficult it is to live a life with integrity – and exactly why it is so necessary. I offer it here with no intent to infringe copyright but simply to reinforce the movie’s message and my own.

That’s what I think, anyway.  What do you think?


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