From Hollywood harassment scandals to Russia election interference, it’s evident our country is in the midst of an integrity crisis. And as we read and hear about these issues, we can see that lines have been undoubtedly crossed. This is not a political statement, but a fact-based observation about what’s at the core of decision-making.
Still, how do you lead when ethical lines are vague and at best gray?
As someone in leadership, you will inevitably make choices within gray areas rather than black or white. When faced with a gray area scenario, you face into it, examine the facts with respect to those involved, and execute your decision with integrity.
In any leadership role, whether CEO, entrepreneur or executive leadership teams, you must find the courage to make the tough choices even in the gray. Here are five ways to avoid an integrity crisis and actively eliminate the gray lines of leadership.
1. Know your core values. When you face a situation that completely throws you off, start with having a clear understanding of the personal values you hold dear. Take a step back and look at the situation with a neutral mentality. What will you stand for? What are the things that deeply motivate you and inspire you to do your best work? What are your non-negotiables? Taking time to evaluate and define your very core values and beliefs will position you for success as you navigate unexpected left turns.
2. Is it legal, is it wise? One of the principles I was taught when leading labor campaigns is to ask two questions — “Is it legal?” and “Is it wise?” Those are two different questions, but they should both be answered. Applying that lens to everyday behavior is essential for leading as a high integrity individual. You can also use probing questions such as, ‘Why do you want to get into that?’ ‘Why do you want to cross that line?’ ‘Is there anything that’s going to be better because you crossed it?’ These will help you process your decision-making along the way.
3. Take swift action. When it comes down to making the tough calls, it’s important not to hesitate no matter how difficult the decision. There was a time when I had to let go of a gentleman who was well-respected and admired within the company. He had an incredible background of organizations in which he’d worked. However, we learned a year-and-a-half into his tenure that not all of his credentials were factual. That was enough to raise a red flag and initiate a close evaluation of his leadership behaviors and ethics. During the investigation of his credentials, a sexual harassment allegation was also brought forward. We took harassment of any kind very seriously. It eventually came down to his word versus the individual that was claiming harassment. I had to take swift action, and came to the agreement that this was not the right company for him. The quicker you can address the challenge, the clearer you set the standard for other team members.
4. Treat people with fairness and dignity. Whether in the small actions you take or the large decisions you make, showing care and concern for the people you lead can be a defining moment for earning their trust and respect. Create a place where your team can work with dignity and respect, then reward them with an environment where they can flourish. That is when you change as a leader, from someone who wants to be their best in their space, to someone who wants to see everyone be the best. Not only will your life change as a leader, but the lives of everyone you interact with will change as well.
5. Be transparent. If you make a mistake you need to own it even if it’s tough to swallow. In my case, there was a very talented, up and coming female lawyer I wanted to be part of my team. We conducted our interviews and eventually extended her the job offer — she accepted. Excitedly, I told my team she would be joining us! But that never happened. I made a mistake by not picking up the phone and having a conversation with her current supervisor about the role. I should have given him the personal courtesy and respect of communicating with him first.
My decision to promote her was overturned and I had to go back to my team, admit my mistake and inform them that the search was back open. Honestly, I was crushed. I truly thought I would lose the respect of my team. But it was just the opposite. Instead, I gained their respect because I was transparent. They saw me step up and own it and use it as a teachable moment. Plus, it made me more human and approachable.
There’s a reason practicing integrity is not always easy. But when we choose to make the right decisions in the grittiest moments, we will reap the rewards that come with making the right calls.
I’ll leave you with this final quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a…football field, in an army, or in an office.”
I hope this post motivates you to lead with the highest level of integrity no matter the challenge.