I was having one of those disjointed and asynchronous “conversations” with my friend Jamie Conglose on Facebook today about integrity- one of the most greatly abused words in the national lexicon of business. Jamie is a world-class teacher of leadership and she opined that “Possessing integrity and emotional intelligence allows organizations and individual leaders to be more inclusive, agile and visionary than those who are stuck in their own perspective. It is not about being nice at the expense of being effective, but rather about being more effective and successful through having a wider perspective.” I noted that defining integrity with clarity is important or it can be a trap.
At IDEAS, we use a sort of mathematical formula for true integrity: (Honesty + Kind Intention) X (Responsibility + Courage).
It came about maybe 15 years ago when we were still with Disney and I was meeting with a brilliant young man (our finance manager Michael Moriarty). He and I had a big team meeting the next day and we really wanted an operating definition for integrity that went beyond “walking the talk”. Hitler “walked his talk” but few would grant that he demonstrated any kind of integrity. By the way, Michael has gone on to a very successful career with Disney as an executive in Hong Kong.
Like other algebra, you must have all four terms in the equation balancing each other for true integrity otherwise you get something that looks like integrity, but isn’t. In the first term, Honesty without Kind Intention is a mask for cruelty and manipulation-the famous “I’m telling you this for your own good” (well actually, NO you’re not! You’re telling me this because you want to win or make me do something.) Kind Intent without Honesty on the other hand, means that we may not have the ability to tell someone something, perform or lead in a way that will actually help end the person’s suffering (like truly helping someone see that they are in a no-win job and REALLY helping them find one that fits).
In our second term, Courage without Responsibility is blind. It can cause us to lead people into peril or loss. But responsibility without Courage may mean that we KNOW what the right thing is but won’t DO it.
Put ‘em together and we have the skill to see clearly and be honest as a strong tool of our kindness, the courage to take action and the responsibility to look deeply and develop the understanding required to act beneficially and effectively. That’s what we strive for in our company. By the way, this makes me think of another business mistake: the oft cited “Failure is Not an Option!” or quoting poor old Yoda “There is no try! There is only Do or Not Do!” That stuff is fine for rhetoric and rah-rah but in the real world, it’s not useful. Nobody always nails it. Knowing the way the compass points is how you get better. It means we are always aware of our intended direction and can develop skills to get us as close as we can get.