By Steve Watkins
Character plays a vital role in successful leaders. Stand by your principles of integrity and hold others accountable to doing the same and you’ll be way ahead of the game.
Here’s how to do that.
See the value.
When questions come up about a leader’s core principles, it erodes trust, says Tim Irwin, an Atlanta-based organizational psychologist and consultant. That gets worse when challenges arise. Irwin compares it to a submarine that goes deep to test the hull’s integrity. That stress reveals any flaws. The same goes for a business leader.
“Integrity determines the probability of success for a leader, more than anything else,” said Irwin, who wrote a soon-to-be-released book about great leaders, “Extraordinary Influence.”
Find your center.
Clarify which principles are vital to you. These are your moral values that are nonnegotiable. Maybe they include treating people fairly and being honest with your customers.
“Then you have a personal Magna Carta that shows some things are not for sale,” said Timothy Clark, founder and CEO of Alpine, Utah-based leadership consulting firm Leader Factor. “It doesn’t matter what the highest bidder offers you. If you don’t have that, then everything is for sale and you become a human vending machine.”
Face tough issues.
Your moral compass will be tested along the way by ethical dilemmas. Let your morals guide you in spots where temptations crop up, like the lure of a big contract that requires some wrongdoing on your part.
“Your integrity means you’ll act on principle, even if it costs you something,” Clark, who wrote “Leading With Character & Competence,” told IBD.
Follow the leader.
Model the behavior you want to see. Act with integrity, be accountable and take responsibility. Those traits will spread across the organization.
“It’s about creating an intentional culture,” Irwin said.
People often treat accountability as a negative, looking for someone to blame. Irwin says a phrase that’s gaining popularity is to look for “one throat to choke,” meaning one person responsible for a project. That doesn’t show much confidence. Instead, look at it as a positive way to get something done.
“There’s a harshness people attribute to accountability that doesn’t serve us well,” he said.
Hold people accountable by working with them to agree on a goal and providing the resources and support to get it done, Irwin says. That’s better than using accountability as a means to show your power.
Stick to your guns.
Follow your principles, even when it means paying a price. Clark is working with one Fortune 500 company that had major problems with one of the products it installed with a large group of customers. Its CEO without hesitation ordered the products replaced.
“He installs a do-the-right-thing mentality throughout the company,” Clark said.
Focus on little things.
Keep your word on seemingly minor promises. Submit your proposal by 3 p.m. if that’s the deadline. Show up to that meeting on time. Your employees and customers will realize they can trust you. If you take shortcuts, that will become a pattern throughout the organization.
“Then it becomes a slippery slope,” Clark said. “That’s why you have to be tight and strict on small promises. You have to sweat the small stuff.”
Accountability comes in two forms. Task accountability simply demands a result, such as a monthly sales quota. But personal accountability involves making sure that goal is accomplished while sticking to the company’s values.
“When a senior leader charters work, they have to charter it with task accountability but also with personal accountability,” Irwin said.
When people show hubris and arrogance, they become isolated, don’t listen to others and make bad decisions, Clark says. Realize you don’t know it all and get input from others.
“Lead through questions rather than answers and by asking more than telling,” Clark said.
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