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Photo credit: Adam Haynes, 2019

Why Integrity is Key to Leadership and Innovation

by Jeet Kumar

We have all read the books about leadership. We have watched TED Talks and joined mentorship groups. We have led conversations about what it takes to be a great leader. So why are most people still struggling in their jobs, finances, businesses, and personal lives?

Do a quick google search for “leadership” and you will find millions of blog posts, articles, and books on qualities, skills, and definitions for leaders. However, I am willing to bet the majority of those results are written by people who have a marriage in shambles, or children who hardly talk to them, or employees who talk behind their backs, or more debt than they would like to admit. More than likely, they lack true integrity.

Integrity is not only a moral issue. But as defined, it also means "the state of being whole and undivided." It is about doing what you say and saying what you do. Integrity in life and in leadership is keeping your word, both spoken and implied or expected. More than anything, integrity is all or nothing. You either have integrity or you don't.

  • If you show your love and affection to your employees in your monthly company meetings but go home at night and snap at your spouse, you are out of integrity.
  • If you coach your employees on how to have meaningful conversations with clients and then intentionally ignore the teller at the bank when they ask about your day, you are out of integrity.
  • If you insist every software developer deliver the committed functionality on time with quality but then chose not to respond to emails when promised, you are out of integrity.

In all the above examples, you are saying one thing but doing another. It doesn't matter that the situations are different because that is at the core of integrity.

 When people are in integrity, they are peaceful. And historically, any innovation is from people who are at peace and fully self-expressed. The key to innovation is peace, joy, happiness and love. When people are consistently operating at that level, they have the freedom to create big, industry-changes.

What does this have to do with running a successful company?

Everything!

Here are three actions we took in our company that you could take to catapult your company from surviving to thriving.

Live your own life in integrity

Once an employee makes a commitment to us, we make a commitment to them. A commitment to figure out what they are up to in their lives and hold them to it if and when they start to lose their way. The ONLY reason we are able to do that successfully is because I and the other four founders (and subsequently every single leader in the company) have a commitment to operate with integrity. We have taken a deep and honest look at our own lives to ensure everything in it is working the way we are committed to it working.

Look at every aspect of your life and see what is working and what is not working. From the moment you wake up, relationships, finances, health, communication with others, and many other elements of life need to be examined. If you are feeling "stuck" in any area, reflect on why, make a declaration for change, and then take action.

 If you don't learn to do small things right, you can never do big things right.

Hold your leaders to account

The second layer of living your own life in integrity is to ensure everyone around you is doing the same. Observe the behavior of your next-level leaders (they can check on everyone else) to see if they are whole and complete. Are they in their own heads and talking themselves in circles in conversations? Do they make comments about being tired and stressed? Do they make excuses for others? These are just a few examples of behavior or habits showing they are holding back or resisting something in their lives, which means they are out of integrity.

From there, help them examine every area of their lives. It might be uncomfortable at first, but growth is uncomfortable. And if they see you living in integrity, they will trust you to support them in taking a look at their own lives.

The most important element of uncovering this layer is to see how they are viewing their own lives, the company, the projects, or the people in ways that might be keeping them stuck. Then guide the conversation in a meaningful way to help them uncover the root and, just as you did for yourself, identify the action needed for them to get unstuck and restore integrity.

Getting unstuck frees up mental and emotional capacity to focus on innovation and contribution.

Allow your employees to be fully self-expressed

All of this reflection and action will have a trickle-down effect. Soon, every single employee in the company will be fully self-expressed and living as leaders.

When this happens, all the noise will be gone and instead of worrying about who is offending who or making excuses for behavior, people will begin to use all that energy to handle problems, projects, and clients in a new way. And the most encouraging and supportive thing you can do at that time is to get out of their way. This may sound easier said than done but guess what? This will come naturally once you are living your own life in integrity and setting the best example.

Innovation comes from a place of freedom and peace. Living with integrity, holding your leaders accountable, and allowing all your employees to be fully self-expressed will transform your company from surviving to thriving and from merely average to a market leader.