Integrity is priceless. We need leaders who model what they believe and who practice what they preach. Advocating for the company code is great, but trust is built when you live your values out.
In a recent Compliance Career Connection event, focused on the art of the elevator pitch, I found myself on the receiving end of some very sage advice. Compliance lawyer and co-host of the Great Women in Compliance Podcast, Mary Shirley, moderated my breakout room and offered this insightful feedback on my pitch: “I know you, and I know you don’t shy away from being vulnerable and transparent. So, just be you and let your personality shine through.”
Mary’s message was quite simple – be real! I believe that when we know who we are and are true to ourselves – and when we let others see us for who we are – we are freer to pursue our dreams, to navigate the world with resolve and confidence and to forge genuine relationships built on trust. That’s also what we want of our leaders. While they set standards for behavior through their words, they influence behavior and lead by their values and actions. Simply put, to instill and model values of respect, dignity, transparency and trust; to ensure safe, fair and ethical work environments; and to be a force for positive change in workplace culture, we need leaders who are the real deal, inside and out.
To draw on a quote from Bruce Springsteen’s book “Born to Run,” on page 267, he reflects: “You’ve got to pull up the things that mean something to you in order for them to mean anything to your audience. That’s where the proof is. That’s how they know you’re not kidding…”
In other words, we know the difference between the real deal (i.e., leaders who are grounded in who they are and what they believe in) and leaders who pay lip service to the company code. So, when leaders genuinely think, act, live and lead with their values – when this is who they are through and through – they build the kind of trusting relationships with employees, customers, stakeholders and the community that have the potential to effect positive change.
We expect our leaders to be trustworthy, respectful, transparent, committed, fair and generous, empathetic and dedicated to truth, among other things. While every organization sets their own corporate values, the one nonnegotiable should be integrity. Integrity, according to the Cambridge dictionary, is “the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values … Integrity is also the extent to which we act according to the values, beliefs and principles we claim to hold.”
I recently gave my husband a coupon to the local barbershop, intending him to use it when he and my son got haircuts later that day. At the end of the day, the coupon remained on the kitchen table, where I’d left it. “Times are tough for small business owners,” they both told me independently. In reflecting on this small act of kindness, I realized that real generosity from the heart, even at its most basic level, is meaningful. That’s what we want from our leaders.
Oscar Munoz wrote about Arne Sorensen, CEO of Marriott, on the day after he passed:
“So many people around the world lost a person very dear to us, our friend Arne Sorenson… Arne’s name is – and will always be – synonymous with the modern Marriott he helped build. This past summer, I was honored for Arne to join me in a conversation at the annual L’Attitude conference, where he spoke passionately about what Marriott strives to provide each and every employee: dignity in work, respect for each other and opportunities to grow. His name will also be synonymous with these values, as well as an inexhaustible spirit of empathy and service to others.”
Others said of Mr. Sorenson: “Arne was an exceptional leader – but more than that – he was an exceptional human being”; “He was a servant leader and a person of great humility,”; “Arne’s unwavering integrity and profound humanity made us all better.” From all accounts, Mr. Sorenson was the real deal.
On the other end of the spectrum, we hear of corporate and political leaders and of entertainers in the news whose fall from grace was precipitated by the revelation to the world of their real selves – we thought they were one thing only to find out they were something else altogether.
We cannot afford to continue to bear witness to the continuous parade of leaders falling from grace. If we are serious about getting on with the business of change to our workplace culture, the environment and our communities, organizations must do a better job of vetting, hiring, trusting and elevating leaders with integrity – those that are who they say they are – not only in words and actions, but in spirit.