Any Google search on the topic of leadership will bring up millions of potential sources of information and advice, but the one constant of being a good leader is that there must be people willing to follow. All of us are followers of something, whether that is your Line Manager or following a sports team or a music band. When you reflect on what is it about that leader that makes you follow them, I believe the key requirement is to not only identify with them but also what they stand for – their values.
Over the last 12 months, there have been countless examples that might, at the very least “raise an eyebrow” to an individual’s values and which, in some cases, have been so severe it has been on the wrong side of the law. What is the price of integrity? Within the workplace, recent examples include the alleged misconduct of BP CEO Bernard Looney (BP boss Bernard Looney quits after board misled over relationships – BBC News) and the recent case of sexual assault admitted by a Barbarian rugby player in a nightclub before a game (Barbarians rugby player Api Ratuniyarawa admits sex attacks – BBC News). Whichever case, the question is simply, does that person or the organisation they represent match the values and standards that you live by? If they fall short, it is unlikely that you will be a follower for long.
In a business sense, this loss of trust or respect by the followers has a real financial impact:
- Will investors want to be associated with your brand?
- Will employees leave and thus incur more recruitment costs?
- Will you need to pay more to retain staff?
- Will customers abandon your brand to avoid being associated with you?
So, the simple observation is that integrity, honesty, ethics and values are not simply words; they are at the very centre of an organisation and fundamental to its success, whether it be a sports club, a multi-national business, a charity, or a political party.
The much more difficult challenge for us all, is what can we do to support, develop or enhance the positive image of our organisation? Author CS Lewis is reputed to have said that “integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching”. This simple concept is easy to understand but much harder to live by. It is about not walking by the person wearing the wrong PPE or not displaying the correct signage. It is about correcting someone for using inappropriate language or sharing inappropriate jokes on a work-related social media group. It is about finding the time to listen to a colleague’s concerns. It is about picking up your litter and putting it in a bin, no matter how long it takes to find one. It is what we all know deep down is the right thing to do and doing it.
So when you are faced with that moment, and you are tempted to take the easy option, turn a blind eye, or do what is best for you but not “the right thing”, remember that as a leader, your followers expect you to lead by example and to do the right thing for your customers. More importantly, to do the right thing for them and their families, not just when people are watching, but every minute of every day. Once integrity is brought into doubt, everything is vulnerable to being questioned, your reputation is damaged, and your effectiveness as a leader is over.