Integrity is a much admired and sought after characteristic in leadership.  When you ask board members or employees about the ideal characteristics for a new leader, integrity is almost always number one on the list, rarely lower than number three.  So since it so critical, what is it?  What does it really mean when a CEO or other leader is said to have great integrity?

Yes, it means telling the truth.  It also means doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.  It means giving credit to others when they deserve the recognition.  It means being authentic.  It means living your personal and professional life in balance, honoring your commitments.

It also means being consistent.  And for some leaders, that is where the rubber skids off the road.

Here is a classic example for healthcare: hospital leaders love to say that their employees are their most important asset.   These kinds of statements are a verbal tip-of-the-hat, an acknowledgement that it takes hundreds or thousands of employees to make a hospital operate.  The real question is whether a hospital can be successful without great employees?  As we grapple with the storms of change generated by impending reductions in reimbursement from deficit reduction programs, the answer is a resounding “no”!

Hospitals talk about the value and importance of their employees.  Rarely is a hospital annual report produced without that perfunctory claim.  More to the point is the question of how many CEOs walk the talk?  How many leaders tell their employees that they are truly the heart and soul of the organization and then back it up, day in and day out, with words and deeds to reinforce that claim?  How many CEOs make daily rounds, engaging their employees in meaningful ways?  How many come in overnight to bring coffee or cold drinks and snacks to the nurses and other support personnel who are there for the patients?  Not once or twice in their tenure, but on a regular basis?  How many leaders visit patients on a regular basis, to say hello and to ask how well the organization is doing to help them get better? 

As a CEO, or any leader for that matter, when you make grand statements statements regardiong your vision and values, then you must personally follow through.  That is called being consistent.  Employees pay attention to it because they know it reflects a leader’s integrity.    

© 2011 John Gregory Self