In their book Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, James Kouzes and Barry Posner surveyed thousands of people across this country and around the world. In the process they completed over four hundred written case studies. As they identified characteristics most people desire in a leader, honesty or ethics was identified more frequently than any other trait.
That seems to make perfect sense. People are most willing to follow someone they can trust. They want to know that leaders will be straight with them, will be consistent, will follow through on what they say, and will be true to a set of values. They want leaders with unshakable ethics.
So what has happened to us? As we write this book, corporate America is hurting. Never before have so many executives been under investigation, and never before have so many not been trusted. USA Today reports,
More than seven in 10 Americans say they distrust CEOs of large corporations. Nearly eight in 10 believe that top executives of large companies will take “improper actions” to help themselves at the expense of their companies. In the past nine months, the percentage of Americans who say they see Big Business as an actual threat to the nation’s future has nearly doubled, to 38%.
This lack of trust seems to have resulted from a corporate culture in which leaders have shown a complete disregard for personal ethics.
BusinessWeek Online reported that on February 7, 1999, the audit committee of Enron Corporation’s board of directors heard the company auditors describe Enron’s accounting practices as “high risk.” In response, none of the directors objected to the procedures, requested a second opinion, or demanded more prudent measures. Further, a Senate subcommittee investigation found that similar reports by Arthur Andersen personnel occurred once or twice each year from 1999 through 2001 with the same result: Not one director drilled deep enough into the details or objected to the high-risk practices.
Building trust with employees, peers, and investors starts and ends with integrity. Consciously or subconsciously, all leaders decide what values to adopt. Either they choose truth, honesty, and fairness or they choose “cooking the books,” “image managing,” and winning at all costs.
If integrity is so important to people, why don’t our leaders seek to live it? Is it a quality you seek in your own life? If people do not believe your words or if they doubt the credibility of your actions, how will you accomplish anything of value? Who will take you seriously?
Jesus said that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Integrity represents a great treasure. Seek it with all your heart.