On January 29, Melissa Korn wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, “For Middle Managers, Integrity May Not Count for Much.”
When I first read the headline I found it difficult to believe. At least in part. The data producing this statement was based on information collected from middle managers and top executives. And it is difficult to believe that these groups of managers would admit integrity is not important. However, as a casual observer, it is antidotically apparent that integrity is lost, or at least misplaced, in managers and executives.
Then I read the headline again. “For Middle Managers…” ah, there is the key word: managers. If they hired leaders to manage then integrity would not be an issue. Looking at the levels of influence (which is what leaders do – leverage influence) as depicted in Launching a Leadership Revolution by Chris Brady and @OrrinWoodward a middle manager should be a “Level 3” leader. They should be using their understanding of the work of their subordinates (“Level 1” – Learn) and their demonstrated ability to master that work (“Level 2” – perform) as a means to lead. But there is more to it than that. To be a leader there are universal truths. The authors hit on it in Revolution, but it does not matter from where you learned leadership; there are truths. One of the most important is that a leader has integrity.
Without integrity a leader can not be trusted to do the right thing. Integrity is, essentially, “doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.” If your leader has no integrity, then what are they doing? Because someone is always watching. Their actions set the standard for the followers; do they show up late, leave early, display an irreverent work ethic? Their followers will soon follow and their production will suffer – if you are only looking at the bottom line. Beyond the bottom line, how does their acquired work ethic, or attitude, transfer to their home life? Are they teaching their children, through their actions, that mediocrity is acceptable? That overachieving, or even being great, is a fool’s errand?
That may be harsh, but not too far off base. A leader makes hard decisions for the betterment of their team (or family) and because they have integrity no one doubts that they will abide by the rules they set. They are an example to be admired. But, if one can achieve through acts alone with no correlation to character – then all is lost as the middle managers continue to aspire upwards. They already say, as do executives, that integrity does not matter to become a manager. They don’t realize they won’t gain integrity as an executive. Integrity does not develop overnight, it is honed throughout a lifetime.
The fact that we build and reward managers and not leaders may be a reason for the softening of a culture. Everyone, especially those that have people work for them, need to strive to be a leader, or become a better leader. We all need to further educate ourselves by using the life experience of others from which to learn (i.e. read). By applying those life lessons to our lives we can be better leaders. As we gain influence we will develop leaders. And, as leadership spreads, we will strengthen our culture and truly become world leaders.
Start reading, read many types of books on leadership and derive your style.