Does Your Leadership Impress Or Depress Your Team?

Never forget … people are always impressed or depressed by you.

As wave after wave of scandal emerges from corporate America, it’s clear that many business leaders have shelved their ethics and integrity for the sake of profit. “It’s truly a problem of ethic proportions,” says D.J. Eagle Bear Vanas, author of “The Tiny Warrior: A Path To Personal Discovery and Achievement.”

I agree. Our businesses, our governments, and even our very lives are in jeopardy because of the ethical problems of a few, so-called, despicable leaders.

Oh, I understand the source of these ethical problems. I understand the pressures on today’s leaders … pressures for higher profit margins, faster production times, and bigger market shares … pressures that push ethics to the sidelines. As we saw with Enron and World Com, and now with the housing crisis and the financial markets, the leader’s ethics and integrity took second seat to the demand for staggering performance reports and a free lunch.

I understand these pressures, but they DO NOT excuse anyone from unethical behavior. To lead a family, a church, a small business, or a large corporation, nothing trumps integrity. It is the very bedrock of effective leadership, enthusiastic followership, and win-win prosperity.

So what can you do to make sure you live a life and work a job filled with ethics and integrity? I’ve found these things work.

=> 1. Remember your ethics are always on display.

Whether you’re in a leadership position or a support position, you will be seen. Make no mistake about it. People are watching you.

If, for example, you’re a manager, do you think there’s anything your people don’t know about you right this minute? As author Jim Rohn asks, “If you haven’t been totally aboveboard and honest with them, do you really think you’ve gotten away with it? Not too likely.”

=> 2. Remember your ethics … or lack of them … always affect others.

Too many people think a few lies here or a dishonest action there are simply the rules of business these days. They fail to realize that even the smallest breech of ethics can have dire consequences.

For example, when we watched the space shuttle Challenger explode into a fireball in 1986, the U.S. public learned it was a “technical failure” in the infamous O-ring. More than a technical failure, that tragedy was a failure of integrity.

Under incredible pressure to launch, the O-ring manufacturer, Morton Thiokol, did not want to be the one to recommend a mission abort. They knew the O-rings may not work. But instead of risking the heat of criticism, they concurred with the launch decision, and tragedy followed. The O-rings were a “little thing” that led to catastrophic failure.

Yes, your ethics always affect others. So ask yourself, “What could happen if I do this?” Play the scenario out in your mind. Otherwise, you can do something in a moment of thoughtlessness that causes major negative consequences. Ask yourself, “Is this decision and action strengthening or weakening my integrity?”

=> 3. Establish clear ethical guidelines BEFORE you have to.

In one of my programs with leaders and managers, I ask the participants to identify their organization’s values … values they expect their ideal employees to follow. Working in small groups, they quickly list about two dozen key words or phrases that describe their values.

And then I ask them to go back and identify the values that they would fire someone for not having. It always slows down the discussion. But inevitably, these groups settle on two or three things like “honesty,” “commitment,” and “integrity.”

The strange thing is … it’s only then that they begin to realize that they’ve never had detailed discussions about ethics with their employees. They haven’t provided any guidelines to deal with the many common ethical dilemmas that come up in their line of work.

It’s then that I let them know that the best time to make a decision about ethical behavior is BEFORE they have to … before there is a question or temptation. It’s the best way of making sure they won’t go astray.

=> 4. Walk your ethical talk … even if it requires sacrifice.

Remember, if you’re a leader of some sort, people are always watching you. And one of the key reasons employees fail to conform to an organization’s stated values is because their leaders fail to “walk their talk.”

I’ll never forget one pharmaceutical company I worked with. The CEO simply announced one day there would be a mentoring program on site, and he arbitrarily and immediately assigned a mentor to each of several high-potential leaders. The CEO then ordered them to get to work and meet once a week. That was that.

Later, when the CEO supposed his program was well under way, he surveyed the high-potential leaders to see how well the mentoring program was working. He was very upset to discover that most of the mentor-mentee pairs had not met in six months.

As the CEO was about to reprimand the pairs who were not moving forward, he suddenly realized that he himself had not yet met with his own mentee. He was not walking his talk … because it required some sacrifice … namely his time.

Being a person of integrity requires discipline. Discipline is doing the right thing … even when you don’t feel like it. And with discipline, you’re willing to surrender some short-term ease to keep your long-term integrity.

Finally, if you do make an ethical error …

=> 5. Admit your mistakes.

Being ethical doesn’t mean you won’t make a mistake. It does mean, however, that you’re the first one to admit your mistake. You learn from it, fix it, and apologize for it … if appropriate.

Do not play the blame game. Do not try to cover up or lie about your mistake. And do not tell others, “do as I say and not as I do.” Those are pathetic ploys that will do nothing but further damage your integrity.

Just admit it. As CEO Larry Bossidy of the Honeywell Corporation said, “Ego containment is crucial. The bigger the ego, the less willing you are to admit mistakes.”

But you’ve got to do it. As Bossidy concluded, “Humility is an important feature in being successful.”

Action:  Where are you tempted to “cut corners” or “tell little white lies?” Be on the lookout for the ethical temptations in your personal and professional life. And if you’re aware of them, you have a better chance of avoiding them.