Rosabeth Moss Kanter describes leadership integrity with compelling imagery. Leaders are “the laureates of the true and beautiful.”
My mental picture of a laureate takes me back to the image of a victorious competitor being crowned with a laurel wreath. The recipient of the laurel wreath is recognized after training, competing and winning. So, in my mind, the wreath is a testament of significant investments before and during the race. It is evidence of preparation, self-control and successful execution in accordance with the rules of the game.
Kanter’s language offers a virtuous picture and provides a safeguard against a narrow view of leadership. Leadership must never devolve into an exercise of raw competition. Instead of pursuing personal glory associated with a reward, leaders pursue a platform to champion what is true and beautiful. Leadership, at its best, inspires others toward what is true and beautiful. How do good leaders stay on track?
You must learn to lead yourself before trying to lead others. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of leadership integrity. You cannot inspire others to pursue higher levels of integrity if you are not modeling a standard of excellence. Kanter charges leaders with “setting standards for what is good conduct and serving as models for meeting those standards.” In the words of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, “You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all.” Leaders who aspire to be “thought leaders” should also desire to be “integrity leaders.”
Integrity is not practiced in a vacuum. Integrity that yields inspiration shines brightest in the most challenging situations. How do leaders respond when values collide and compete? Leadership integrity may begin in quiet moments of solitude, but it can never stay there. Great leaders create a strong team and develop a culture that reinforces the right decisions.
Team leadership begins with the fact that “we” are better than “me.” It’s not just true of creativity, efficiency and productivity. Creating a strong team culture is essential for sustaining integrity over the long haul. Team meetings are the practice field. Integrity must be refined, carefully scrutinized and challenged on the practice field every week. When this takes place within a team culture where high levels of transparency and accountability are woven into behavioral norms, leaders become the laureates of what is true and beautiful.
Good leaders pause long enough to look out the window and ask the big questions. It’s important to ask questions that stretch the scope of integrity beyond the boardroom. Ask, “Is our leadership a catalyst for increased integrity? Challenge your leadership team, “How does our practice of leadership serve the needs in our local and global community?” Simon Sinek defines leadership in terms of the incredible value of those around us. “Leadership is about taking responsibility for lives and not numbers.” Integrity enables you to pursue a triple bottom line. Measure success in terms of creating wins in people, business and community.