Quick! What is the most important trait for a leader to possess?
According to Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, "Research indicates that integrity is the most essential quality of an effective leader."
Beyond Stephen Covey, my research and experience suggests integrity is the most important trait for any leader to possess. Employees want to know their leader is truthful and ethical. Virtuous leaders demonstrate affection toward others and encourage others to be open and honest with them. These leaders are positive and passionate, loving, compassionate, grateful and encouraging.
What might integrity look like within an organization? Below are five examples commonly seen by leaders who demonstrate high levels of integrity.
Leaders with integrity...
Eliminate workplace politics. When they notice harmful behavior, they immediately address the issue. They make decisions based on deeply-held organizational values, not self-serving behaviors.
Practice transparent decision-making. They openly share the decision-making process and clearly explain the rationale behind a decision, helping to remove staff skepticism and cynicism.
Apologize. It takes a great deal of character to apologize. Noble leaders recognize when they make a mistake and take ownership by genuinely apologizing to those hurt by the action.
Admit when they don't know something. Instead of claiming to have all the answers, leaders with integrity understand their weakness and work hard to attract people who can fill those gaps.
Walk the walk. These leaders don't simply talk, they follow through on their commitments. Ethical leaders are visible in day-to-day undertakings, and model the values they and their constituents share.
The next time you find yourself on an interview committee looking for a new organizational leader, don't get caught up with charm and personality. Instead, dig below the surface and focus on the integrity of each candidate when making your final selection.
Looking for a great book about the importance of integrity in leadership? Consider reading The Truth About Leadership by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.