John W. Marriott III, Executive VP for Marriott International, Inc., once said, “When asked what qualities we are seeking in future leaders of Marriott, I’m quick to list the characteristics we admire: customer-focused, diligent, intelligent, caring, and the list goes on. But, here’s the reality: a person must have integrity. If they don’t, they won’t last long in our organization. Integrity is the most important attribute a successful associate, manager or executive can possess. And yet, it seems that people with a strong set of principles are among the hardest to find. When we do find people with integrity, we keep them, we promote them, and we ask them to lead others. In other words, integrity works.”
True leaders understand that it is essential that they lead with integrity because people follow people they trust. If they make a mistake they don’t cover it up or blame someone else—they admit it. If they make a commitment to an employee, colleague, or superior—they keep it.
The word integrity stems from the Latin adjective, integer (meaning whole or complete). Synonyms for integrity include candor, forthrightness, goodness, honesty, honorableness, and incorruptibility.
Why is integrity so important? Because lack of integrity in a leader immediately causes others (both inside and outside the organization) to lose trust in them, and it’s character-based trust that binds people (including spouses) to each other. Just as soldiers follow leaders they trust into battle, especially those who are willing to “take point” (i.e., assume the most exposed position), employees follow leaders they trust.
True leaders know that trust is essential to maintaining high morale in an organization, and that lack of trust destroys morale and motivation. As Dr. Henry Cloud, a clinical psychologist and corporate consultant said in his 2009 book entitled, Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, a lack of integrity is bound to result in failure in three key areas:
1. Hitting a performance ceiling that is much lower than ones aptitude
2. Hitting an obstacle or situation that derails you
3. Reaching great success only to self-destruct and lose it all.
As people of integrity, true leaders are willing to take “unpopular” stands and are willing to say, “No,” when doing so is the only ethical choice. W. Clement Stone shared this admonition, “Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.”