We have discussed four mistakes so far which can damage employee engagement. Today we address mistake #5. Making and keeping agreements is the minimum we can do to be a model of leadership. It is the minimum we can do to live with integrity. Any effective leader must be aware of this.
Mistake #5: Being Unaware of Your Most Important Characteristic
There is a scene in the movie the Cinderella Man which always inspires me. James J. Braddock is a boxer during the depression. He and his family are in very tough times. They’re out of money. They’re out of food. He damaged his hand in a fight and was forced to search for work on the docks of New York until it healed. The lights are about to be shut off. The family is hungry. They are desperate.
He comes home after a long day looking for work to find his son in trouble. Apparently, knowing the family was out of food, his son stole a large sausage from the butcher earlier in the day. James asks his son where he got the sausage. He admits his act of theft. James walks him down the street to the butcher and tells him to give the sausage back, admit his mistake, and apologize.
After returning the sausage the son explains that a close friend of his was just sent away to live with distant relatives because the family had no food. Because of the current dire situation, the son clearly was afraid the same would happen in their family.
After hearing the explanation James Braddock made agreements with his son to allay his fears. “Son, he said, I promise I will never send you or your brother and sister away. I want you to promise to never steal again. OK?”
Integrity is the most important characteristic for a leader. It is the foundation of all the others. Any leader who does not put integrity above all else will cause severe harm him or herself, to the team, and the organization.
When researching leadership, one will begin to see a pattern of key skills that describe qualities of effective leaders. These include (not in any particular order), confidence, vision, effective communication, attitude, courage, inspiration, decision making, empathy, sense of humor, emotional intelligence, honesty etc. In my opinion, these are important but do not exceed the importance of integrity. Furthermore, each of these characteristics relies on integrity to be fully effective.
The Essence of Success
Buckminster Fuller once said, “Integrity is the essence of everything successful…and…If humanity does not opt for integrity we are through completely. It is absolutely touch and go. Each one of us could make the difference.” Here is where leaders must start their growth. They must begin by committing to behaving with integrity. Otherwise, we attract failure and/or destruction. Integrity is the foundation for success and for leadership.
“In looking for people to hire look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And, if they don’t have the first one the other two will kill you.” Warren Buffet, CEO Berkshire Hathaway.
How to Begin
So how can a leader insure integrity to begin to build leadership credibility? A leader must start with observable behavior to create a solid foundation. There are two statements describing behavior that can get us started and keep us busy the rest of our lives.
Two Simple Statements Which Are Not Easy
The first statement is, “Make only agreements you intend to keep.” This means we must think about our commitments and promises to be sure we can keep them before we say “yes.” Otherwise, we must say “no! I can’t do that.”
An agreement (or promise and/or commitment) is defined as a task which is specific measurable and time sensitive and where you believe you can deliver the desired result. For example, coming to work on-time is an agreement. If work starts at 8:30 AM you need to arrive no later than 8:30 AM. You know how to get to work and you know when to leave the house and you know about (on average) how much time it will take. Therefore, you can make this agreement.
Sometimes “stuff” happens. Sometimes that “stuff “messes up our ability to keep the original agreement (e.g. arriving on-time). How can we protect our integrity when the “stuff” happens? This brings us to statement #2.
The second statement reinforces the first, “If you can’t keep your agreement, communicate immediately to those who need to know.” If we can’t come to work on-time due to weather, traffic, or other unforeseen circumstance, we must let people know immediately. Communicating the result of a miscalculation, mistake, and/or inability to predict an unpredictable event protects us. It is a demonstration of integrity as long as it does not become a trend or a habit.
These two statements begin to define integrity and any leader who hopes to be a leader must be aware of these. The statements are simple but they are challenging (not easy) to live. Making and keeping agreements is the minimum we can do to be a model of leadership. It is the minimum we can do to live with integrity. It is a foundation. We must build upon it. We must create and communicate a vision, inspire others, and communicate effectively, etc. But without these three statements we have no foundation for integrity. Without this integrity we have no leadership.
Wally Hauck, PhD, has a cure for the “deadly disease” known as the typical performance appraisal. Wally holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Warren National University, a Master’s of Business Administration in finance from Iona College, and a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.
Wally is a Certified Speaking Professional or CSP. Wally has a passion for helping leaders let go of the old and embrace new thinking to improve leadership skills, employee engagement, and performance.