The Power of Integrity
The Ghost of Banquo, Théodore Chassériau 1855
The world has a leadership crisis. If you don’t believe that, just read the newspapers or take a quick survey of almost any workplace. What you’ll find is crisis – no answers, no vision, no hope, and no commitment. The only thing you’ll find in abundance is cynicism. For all the money and effort spent of leadership programs in schools, universities, and the corporate world, we have never been more short of leaders than we are today – in homes, workplaces, communities, and nations.
Leadership starts with personal development – leaders have to make themselves. It is wishful thinking to believe that merely teaching people what to do in given circumstances and arming them with a toolkit of new skills will turn them into leaders. Dishonest people, weak people under pressure or self-centred people will turn those skills to their own advantage, and anyway, most people would struggle to use them even-handedly across all relationships.
Being a leader is less about skills, i.e. “what you can do”, than it is about on-going education, i.e. “what sort of person you are”.
The ancients recognised that knowledge is of three kinds: knowing that (facts), knowing how (technique) and knowing what (judgment). The first two are knowledge of means, while the last is knowledge of ends, involving the consideration of truth and purpose, and judgments about right and wrong.
Our society focuses on the first two to the detriment of the last and most important — the ‘ends’ of good judgment. Knowing what to think, feel or do in any given set of circumstances requires understanding of ourselves and our place in the world in relationship to others, and a commitment to doing what we believe to be right. It enables us to answer questions such as “What should I do about this disruptive member of my team?”, “What should I think of this blatant deceit on the part of my client?” and “What should my feelings be in relation to the heart attack suffered by my rival?”. Leadership is about people, not processes.
It does enormous damage in our workplaces, and society in general, to have people in positions of responsibility who believe they can deal with others according to mechanical templates picked up from some training programme or the latest management best-seller. Training can only produce what it sets out to produce, namely functionaries who are there simply to ensure that the system operates smoothly.
Moreover, training works on the principle that the desired abilities can easily be replicated, so that replacing managers never presents a problem because the vacant slot can be filled by another clone. This commitment to management by formula not only ignores the complexities of individual people and the intricate dynamics of human relationships, it also inhibits the one thing leaders have to do every moment of every day — think for themselves.
The focus on skills training is the reason people are so afraid of and resistant to change. Skills can become obsolete in a rapidly changing world, and if all you have learned is to be swept away, requiring you to learn new skills, it can be an unsettling prospect.
Educated people, on the other hand, know that change is a constant in life, and are flexible enough in their thinking to adapt and learn whatever skills may be required. Educated people are confident in their creative ability to deal with the challenges of life.
Education focuses on individuals, their ideas, and their cultures, ensuring a rich reservoir of knowledge and experience that enables a leader to understand, at the very least, just how difficult it is to understand people. And education is only what it claims to be if it inspires and equips a person to think for themselves.
The great irony in the global leadership crisis is that we know what it takes to be an effective leader, but the focus on skills training instead of education has led to a situation in which very few people put the ideas into practice. Here are ten things that will immediately make you a better leader if you do them consistently.
Your role is to make things better – if you’re not driving change, you’re not leading
Think – set aside time for reflection on your leadership every day
Make sure your vision inspires a constant sense of purpose and aspiration
Make everyone always aware that they are an important part of the team
Commit daily to helping everyone be the best they can be
Promote justice in your workplace and the community
Deal with conflict and under-performance swiftly and firmly
Empower people – delegate generously and trust people to get on with it
Encourage innovation – nurture a culture of creativity
Promote efficient communication at all levels and set the example
The trouble is that people all over the world, from American presidents to Azerbaijani industrialists, fall short on this straight-forward game-plan time and again. Why? Well, the reason is simply that people are people, frail, fractious, fickle human beings, and not machines, programmable and predictable.
Why does a manager promote a poorly-suited candidate over an eminently well-qualified prospect? Why does a manager avoid confronting an underperforming and disruptive team member? Why does a manager permit work-overload and out-of-control stress to impact himself and his team? The answers are myriad and unquantifiable: self-interest, favouritism, laziness, foolishness, obstinacy, ego, personality clash, lack of knowledge, lack of planning, lack of self-control, fear, cowardice, and on and on.
The only way that you can get yourself doing things on the list always and everywhere is to cultivate your character and develop increasing wisdom, things that training can’t give you – only education in so-called ‘useless’ knowledge can. To make a good leader you first have to make a good person – leadership development is essentially about personal development.
And that is what the Power of Integrity Leadership Program is all about.