How to Lead with Integrity
Most business owners aren’t born leaders, says Marcy Tieger, managing director of Symphony Advisors. Instead, they may fall into being leaders due to another skill, or sets of skills, they possess.
“Most people who own a business or lead in a business, were probably good at something else that got them into that position,” she says. “They may be a great technician or a strategic thinker. They weren’t necessarily people who were born with leadership skills.”
Although that may be the case, once you ascend into a leadership role, you have to not only consider all the practical aspects of running a business—like understanding financials, the economic climate, good business relationships, technical expertise, etc.—but also balance that with the separate job of leading, which Tieger notes is “a lot more than simply being told you are a leader.”
That’s where the concept of integrity leadership comes into play. At its simplest, integrity leadership is a combination of self-awareness about how you lead combined with consistently leading your values, Tieger explains.
“It’s the process of checking in, in the same way that you do with other KPIs in your business,” she says. “You always hear the phrase ‘continuous improvement’ in this business. It’s not like you reach a pinnacle and you’re there and done, but rather, it’s about viewing how you lead and leading the values that you know are important to your business.”
The concept of integrity leadership is a process that every business owner should implement, Tieger says, by first looking inside at what they believe are the most important values in their development as leaders treating cultivating those qualities as a KPI in their leadership growth. Tieger walks through the steps of integrity leadership.
1) Be mindful about leadership.
The first step to integrity leadership is mindfulness, Tieger says, which, in essence, boils down to being aware of how you lead.
“It sounds like crunchy ‘New Age’ terminology,” she says. “But having worked with a lot of business leaders, the people I have seen who are most successful are the people who read about leadership and management. They recognize that it is an integral part of the success of their business.”
Tieger says you need to attend seminars and training, talk about leadership with other business owners and also be looking to learn and improve.
“It’s the belief that there is still something to learn about being the very best leader,” she says. “They don’t believe that they have arrived.”
2) Identify your core values.
Next, Tieger recommends identifying what you as a leader think are the most important values in your business. That could be empathy, humility or accountability (or any number of other things), she says as examples. Empathy, for instance, is the ability to stand in the shoes of the people that you are working with, which allows you to not only lead with openness and honesty, but also drill down into issues in the organization because you understand what is truly going on with your employees.
“Not everybody believes every value is important,” she says. “One is not more important than the other. Frequently, the values are the things that the leader believes he or she needs to work on or foster more than others.”
To begin the process of understanding your values, consider what motivates you or even what you need to work on. Look for patterns in your life or begin to pay attention to what you frequently discuss or complain about. You’d be surprised at how quickly those patterns jump out, says Tieger.
“As a leader, build in those qualities that you think are important to cultivate as a leader into a checklist.”
—Marcy Tieger, managing director, Symphony Advisors
3) Incorporate your values as a KPI.
The point of integrity leadership, Tieger says, is to be mindful on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Just like you would track other key performance indicators (KPI) in your business, Tieger says you need to be doing the same thing with the values or leadership goals you’re looking to achieve.
“Literally, as a leader, build in those qualities that you think are important for you to cultivate as a leader into a checklist,” she says. “It may not be something that you’re sharing directly with your group. You don’t have to say, ‘I’m really working on humility.’ Rather, take the time to ask, ‘Have I met the standards that I think are really important for me as a leader?’ I’m holding other people to standards and I know these are things I want to be good at.”
“The people who lead with integrity recognize the importance of being nice to their people and valuing their people.”
—Marcy Tieger, managing director, Symphony Advisors
Tieger recommends printing or writing out the values and then checking on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Ask yourself, “What am I doing to work on these things that I said were important?”
For example, one of the most common practices that Tieger frequently works with businesses on is giving more employee feedback. She says that integrity leaders will not only make that practice a conscious part of their leadership, but will also continue that practice if an employee needs to be disciplined or fired by identifying whether it’s a skills, training or attitude issue and fairly assess the situation.
“When I’ve done strategic planning with businesses, many business leaders will build into their business initiatives the value of expressing appreciation through the act of giving positive feedback to employees. They build that in,” she says. “Leaders who do this is are the kind of people who are committed to saying please and thank you, as simple as that sounds. They recognize that the reason that people leave most businesses is that they don’t feel valued. Money is part of it, but it’s seldom the lead reason. The people who lead with integrity recognize the importance of being nice to their people and valuing their people.”
4) Ask for feedback.
Don’t be afraid to get feedback from your employees, if it’s applicable, Tieger says. Ask your employees if there is anything that you as the leader need to work on or if there’s anything the staff needs from leadership. However, if you do so, be prepared to honestly deal with their feedback and to act on reasonable requests. Obviously it has to be within reason, but the goal is to build a business culture where the free exchange of ideas is welcome and where the leader is not assumed to be perfect or to have all the answers. Tieger says. “Employees don’t generally make outrageous requests like, ‘I’d rather have a 20-hour workweek.’ Rather, most of the time, it will be simple things, like, ‘I would really appreciate that if you say we’re going to have a quarterly review, I’d really like to have my review in that time frame.’”
Tieger says that you may be surprised by how simple and easy to institute some of the suggestions might be. And while creating a culture with an open door policy doesn’t happen overnight, by looking internally at how you lead and being open to feedback, she says it can be a great gift for an organization.