There is No Leadership Without Integrity

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Those thrust into leadership positions need only one arrow in their quiver: integrity. Whether in business or politics, if you can speak truth to power while understanding and accepting the risks, then you have integrity. How many bad situations remain unresolved or allowed to fester because no one steps up to recognize a wrong or untruth?

Often, would be a fair guess.

Think about it: if someone speaks out on those issues important to him or her, it uncovers the nature or character of that person.  I have written about the importance of authenticity. It comes with a risk of having our words manipulated or “spun” for someone’s or some group’s own benefit. We can feel belittled due to criticism, and also feel that our inner core is being destroyed.

Look at the news today. How often do we find ourselves shaking our heads at the TV, newspaper, laptop, smartphone, etc. and asking, “Do you take me for a fool?” Mistruths spoken, inartful apologies given, speeches delivered full of ambiguity and/or jargon or any other device used — all with the goal of the placating the masses while trying to provide a holier-than-thou image. Are these approaches what we want our leaders to use?

Think of the frustration and disappointment we feel with politicians and leaders who change their positions on matters large and small. Or if they do come out with a position, you can just tell by body language that they have no intellectual or emotional investment in their statements.  Skepticism seeps in because we ascribe misguided behavior to anyone in a position of power. This taint with a broad brush may not be fair, but who can we name today on two hands individuals who are role models?

The Buck Stops Here

These were the words on a sign that President Harry Truman had on his desk. It was intended to show that all blame, manipulation and responsibility was ultimately his to own. Another president, Dwight Eisenhower had said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

Employees in any sector wish to work for someone or a group that has integrity because by definition they will be treated fairly in the context of doing what is best for the organization. When this is the case, the business or organization will be more profitable. It will attract top talent, investors and customers.

The more integrity (and honesty) exercised by leaders, the more committed their followers will become — because the leaders are trustworthy and the employees are invested.

Competence is fine, but alone, is not sufficient. Someone may have reached the apex of his or her career through competence, but integrity will show the full measure of the person’s character and personal makeup. In a perfect world, both competence and integrity march in lockstep from the first day going forward. If the latter never manifests itself, all the competence in the world will not keep a pool of talent or a loyal customer base.

Remember, a values statement framed and hung on the wall or a sign on a desk is meaningless if it is ignored or manipulated around the edges. I believe no company or individual wants to be known for lacking integrity, so why is it each day whether in international sports, college campuses, the halls of Congress or in boardrooms do we read about the fabric of integrity being frayed at the edges?

Is this just a short-term trend that can be resolved, or is it something that needs to be taught beginning in kindergarten, repeated in  Grades 1-12, offered as necessary college credits, and be a large chapter in the employee handbook distributed on day one?

There are many simple ways to define, create and implement an environment of integrity. They can range from giving credit to others and being honest to being accountable and admitting mistakes.

These tenets can certainly be instilled at a young age. Whether they will be internalized and practiced as second nature, well, that’s another issue.

About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at