THE TWO SIDES OF INTEGRITY
Growing up as the child of a homemaker and a research scientist, I absorbed lessons in both of these elements of integrity from my parents. My mother was as kindhearted as anyone I’ve known, passing the benevolence test with flying colors, never doing anything to deceive anyone. My father, though not as reliably kind, was deeply competent and capable of delivering results. Neither had mastered the other’s chief reason to be trusted. I could count on my mother’s heart, but not always her ability to deliver. I could count on my father’s reliability, but not always on his benevolence. Each had an incomplete version of the integrity required to build a high-trust enterprise.
In many organizations, integrity is emphasized without sufficient focus on both notions. But building enduring trust within an organization requires not only integrating private honor with public honor and benevolence with competence—it also requires removing the gaps between what we say and what we do.
In other words, organizations will not, and should not, trust leaders if they’re merely virtuous. Followers also need to count on leaders for competent execution, and for little space between action and utterance. In the business world, for example, Starbucks employees tend to trust their place of employment not only because they feel it’s a virtuous company but also because they believe that its CEO, Howard Schultz, does what he says he’ll do, be it about things like the primacy of health insurance or the company’s commitment to hiring veterans.
All trust begins with character. And because character embodies both forms of integrity, what follows are ways to think about personal integrity as an underpinning of trust. Although these observations may seem intuitive, you might be surprised to learn that some leaders view them as trivial, having little to do with realpolitik in the boardroom, in the workplace, or during negotiations. The politics of power, rather than integrity is, in their view, the coin of the corporate realm.
While no one can claim perfect congruence between private and public actions, or complete reliability and predictability around results, there’s a continuum along which we all operate. The further we get from any of these dimensions of integrity, the more likely we are to rely on carrots and sticks and other more primitive applications of power to achieve objectives. And the closer we get to integrity in all of its dimensions, the more likely our organizations will enjoy the benefits of self-directed employees, innovation, and lower turnover.
3 QUALITIES TO LOOK FOR IN MANAGEMENT AT YOUR BUSINESS
In seeking the kind of integrity on which leaders can build organizational trust, they should always remember to:
1) Sync words with actions.
Individuals who run things must demonstrate the way they want business to be done as well as the way they want others to be treated. Talking alone won’t cut it. Leaders must embody the spirit they want the team to adopt.
Just as people pick up on phoniness and instinctively spot say-do gaps, they recognize—and trust—authenticity. Just as kids see parents as examples, for good or bad, team members watch leaders for cues. Incongruence spreads—first to other individuals, then to pockets within a company, and finally to the organization as a whole. So when leaders miss an opportunity to exemplify core values, they sow distrust. Whatever else observers criticized in Steve Jobs’s management style, nobody doubted his commitment to design, even at the risk of market share. Other foibles earned him a reputation as an imperious boss, but many eventually came to trust him, in part because he predictably spent time, money, and energy on exactly what he claimed were his values.
George Steinbrenner, the late owner of the New York Yankees, preached the values of philanthropy and kindness. He, too, could be a management bully. But when Steinbrenner died in 2010 at age eighty, scores of people came forward to tell of his private acts of generosity: unpublicized scholarships for poor children, quiet donations to the families of fallen police officers, letters and visits to past employees and strangers in need of support. Those kinds of quiet actions—backing up his words—carry continuing power for the Yankee and Steinbrenner brands. While generosity does not equal the kind of integrity required by the First Law of Trust, Steinbrenner showed a certain measure of consistency between values and actions upon which trust could build.
2) Avoid hypocrisy.
A leader can’t build trust on skills, charisma, and expertise alone. Trustworthy leaders show respect, consider the welfare of others, and keep their word. This doesn’t end at the close of the workday; leaders who can’t manage commitments outside the office are far less likely to establish enduring trust with colleagues, suppliers, or customers. If they pretend to have virtues or competencies they don’t possess, leaders risk creating cynicism and a loss of trust. Better to promise less and deliver more in order to build trust.
3) Work on establishing integrity as a habit.
Leaders who strive to do the right thing under any circumstance have developed the discipline to consider the long run, to subordinate themselves to the mission of the enterprise, and to act as a fiduciary for others. Trustworthy leaders are intentional about “fixing things” in themselves, about receiving feedback, and about making changes based on that feedback.
Just as a great mechanic keeps a race car in top condition, high-trust individuals monitor and tune their behavior, striving to do better. In my own case, I decided early on to turn my values into reality before the temptation to violate them appeared. I wrote out a plan to reserve time with family. Shortly after I joined Trammell Crow Company, the founder called me at home on a Sunday, asking me to come to the office to discuss a deal. Although flattered, I nervously informed him that I had reserved Sundays for family and would see him as early as he wanted on Monday morning. This boundary established to me, and to my boss, the values I intended to keep. Anyone wanting to build a high-trust organization must start by looking in the mirror. Doing so will inevitably reveal shortcomings—breaches of integrity—where our actions don’t reflect our words, or our private behavior isn’t up to our public image. Even if you’re not where you want to be, team members who see leaders working on shortcomings will tend to trust them, and enterprise-wide trust will grow.
Excerpted with permission from The 10 Laws of Trust: Expanded Edition by Joel Peterson, copyright Joel C. Peterson with David A. Kaplan.