Leadership, Integrity, and Trust

Integrity highlighted in blue

I was listening to a radio program on academic ethics this morning that cited two recent ‘experts’ who were caught lying about their academic credentials.

Louis LaPierre’s expertise strongly influenced Canadian environmental policy and was recently found to have his PhD in education and not science as he had claimed.

Syrian researcher Elizabeth O’Bagy’s work was referenced by John Kerry and John McCain in the debate over military action in the war torn country. O’Bagy not only failed to complete her PhD program at Georgetown as claimed, but actually wasn’t even accepted into the doctorate program.

As I was listening to the program, I started to think about the never ending stories of performance enhancing drug scandals in sport, political leaders with infidelity issues, and business leaders who seemingly stop at nothing in their pursuit of success.

The lack of integrity has even trickled down to our kids. In the New York Times Article, Studies Find More Students Cheating, Howard Gardner, says that “over the 20 years he has studied professional and academic integrity, the ethical muscles have atrophied, in part because of a culture that exalts success, however it is attained.”

I assume that none of you are using performance enhancing drugs to be better at your job. However, let’s not be too quick to feel ethically superior. Extreme examples are the ones that make the news, while ‘minor’ transgressions can have just as big of an impact on how much you are trusted.

I have a former colleague who I have referred clients to many times over the years. Every client referral resulted in a thank you along with the promise that a “bottle of wine was on the way”. A dozen referrals (and tens of thousands of dollars of revenue) later, I have never received a single bottle of wine. I eventually stopped referring clients his way.

It might seem petty on my part to question an individual’s integrity over a bottle of wine, but it had little to do with the wine. It was about him establishing a track record of making a commitment and never following through. Essentially, if I can’t trust you to do the simple things, I can’t have any confidence in how you will respond to tougher challenges.

I remember a quote – but not who said it – that “doing the right thing is never wrong”. Being committed to doing the little things right will build you into a leader with uncompromising integrity and will help you do the right thing when the ethical challenge becomes more…well…challenging.

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