In the March 2016 Entrepreneur Magazine, there was a great article about 22 Must Have Leadership Qualities. I found the article to be so powerful that I am spending a few minutes each week thinking about how I can improve these leadership skills myself. Like most things in life, you get what you focus your attention on.
When discussing integrity, Gunnar Lovelace, Co-CEO and cofounder of Thrive Market, says that “If you focus on becoming authentic in all of your interactions, that will rub off on your business and your culture, and the rest will take care of itself.” While this is certainly true I can see how in certain situations integrity and authenticity can sometimes be at odds with each other. Here’s why….
Integrity vs Authenticity
Integrity as I have always known it to be is “doing the right thing when no one is looking”. This means that even if you can do something to take advantage of a situation or to gain an unfair advantage you have a higher code of ethics and hold yourself to a higher standard and don’t engage in activities that might be questionable.
Authenticity is being true to yourself and your inherent nature and tendencies. The dilemma arises when you have someone that doesn’t have a high sense of integrity and lies, cheats and steals when no one is looking. Since they have a low sense of integrity, for them to be authentic is to lie, cheat and steal. So when you have a low sense of integrity, you can have a high sense of authenticity but still be a really bad person.
I do think that if you have a high sense of integrity it makes being authentic much easier and can be detected by those around you. When employees and team members can sense a leader is being authentic in addition to caring and compassionate, it makes for a powerful combination of attributes that can make a team go to great lengths for their leaders.
Falling on the Sword
Thinking back through my career I can remember many times when I had to make tough decisions that were not necessarily favorable to my career in the short or long term but were the right decision to be made. One time when I was serving as VP of Marketing for indoorDIRECT, I was leading the team on a rather large project and hadn’t had very much guidance or input from the other members of the senior leadership team. As the leader of the marketing department, I had to make tough decisions that I thought were in the best interest of the company and would make the project the best it could be. When it came time to present the project to senior leadership, prior to presenting to the client, the entire marketing team gathered in the executive conference room excited to hear the reaction from our President and CFO. Anticipation was high as a lot of people on the team had sacrificed time with their families and weekends to bring this project to completion. Everyone wanted this presentation to blow the executive team away and show the efforts of our hard work.
While we all were excitedly waiting for the response from the leadership team after my presentation, the reaction from the President and CFO was not what anyone expected or was looking for. How was it received? Quite frankly they said it was “terrible” and “totally missed the mark” and a few other choice words. They also started to reprimand those on my team that they knew had been working on the project without yet casting blame onto me, the one ultimately responsible for the success of in this case failure of the presentation.
Before blame was cast on other members of the team, I quickly interrupted our President and told him that he didn’t need to say anything else to anyone on the team and that he could take up any and all issues related to the project not meeting his expectations with me. I also expressed to him that it was obvious we didn’t meet his expectations and that we work late nights and weekend if need be to come up with another plan and blow the client away when we presented to them the following week. I was so emphatic when making my point I think I even convinced myself that we were going to come up with an even better presentation than the first one we developed.
After I got these words out of my mouth a silence came over the room and most if not everyone’s mouths hung open waiting for the response from our President. The words that came out of his mouth were a shock to most, considering how angry he was just a moment ago. He said, “okay…. I get it… let’s you and me get together in my office and discuss what we can do to salvage this.”
He didn’t say “thanks for taking the blame for this” or anything to that effect but he clearly understood that I was owning up to the failure of the team and seemed to understand that nothing good would come out of throwing additional team members under the bus while we played the blame game.
Looking back on this event several years later, I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I hadn’t stood up for my team and fallen on my sword at that moment. It’s not always easy leading with integrity but the right decision isn’t always the easy one.