How to Develop Integrity as a Leader
By: Axel Meierhoefer
Axel Meierhoefer is a published author, educator, coach, consultant, and the founder of Axel Meierhoefer Consulting LLC (AMC LLC). His motto is" Helping others help themselves achieve success". If you would like to be notified of future articles go to http://www.meierhoefer.net/blog or send an email to AM@Meierhoefer.net
Every once in a while you run across a book or find a book that really affects you. I found this in Henry Cloud's book 'Integrity', so much so that I taught a whole ethics class based on it. That class was exceptionally well received and many of the students decided to write a letter to Dr. Cloud thanking him for his insights. Here is a summary of what a reader can find and learn about Integrity in Henry Cloud's book.
Henry Cloud discusses the many challenges posed to institutions today. Strength is a condition precedent to achieving goals. Oddly enough, many people hit performance ceilings which are below their aptitude. Occasionally, employees succeed and fail almost simultaneously. Despite the travail, it is important to establish trust through having heart and real passion for the job. Tough problems are resolved in an organization by focusing on them dispassionately and applying an interactive and disciplined approach consistently until successful resolution is reached.
Avoidance can be very destructive because opportunities do surface. A disciplined approach will provide the necessary focus to seize opportunities when they arise and resolve problems constructively with a minimum of organizational tension. This is also very supplemental with the Performance IQ® system used in my company to assess the aptitude of performance across the workforce of the organization. Based on that knowledge, interventions, like coaching and training, can be planned, targeted towards one or more of the twelve drivers we assess and then implemented utilizing modern learning methods.
Dr. Cloud makes it clear that "integrity," as he uses the term, is much more than mere "honesty." Throughout the book he separates and illuminates six essential qualities and character traits that lead to success in the business world. He describes the desirable character that . . .
1) Creates and maintains trust
2) Is able to see and face reality
3) Works in a way that brings results
4) Embraces negative realities and solves them
5) Causes growth and increase
6) Achieves transcendence and meaning in life
The six dimensions are well sequenced and are interrelated. Ignorance or failure of one dimension can lead to overall nonperformance. The "gap" in a person who lacks the wholeness of character is bound to result in failure in three specific ways: (page 38):
- Hitting performance ceiling that is much lower than ones aptitude
- Hitting an obstacle or situation that derails you
- Reaching great success only to self destruct and lose it all.
"You will see how these character traits supersede gifts, talents and ability, and how the ones who have them succeed and the ones who don't, ultimately fail." (Page xii) In talking with a wealthy businessman who is a personal friend, Dr. Cloud heard his friend comment on how he chooses to invest his money in businesses.
"I did not invest in those businesses. I invested in the people. I never invest in businesses I don't know anything about, but I will invest in a person. If I know their character, their history, how they operate, what kind of judgment they have, what kinds of risks are acceptable to them, how they execute, and things like that, and I know them well, I will invest. But I don't buy businesses I don't know anything about." (Pages 29-30)
Early in this book, Dr. Cloud gives us his expanded definition of integrity as it applies to the business world:
"And, the origins of the word we can see in the French and Latin meanings of intact, integrate, integral and entirety. The concept means that the `whole thing is working well, undivided, integrated, intact and uncorrupted.' When we are talking about integrity, we are talking about being a whole person, an integrated person, with all of our different parts working well and delivering the functions that they were designed to deliver. It is about wholeness and effectiveness as people. It truly is `running on all cylinders.'" (Page 31)
The author offers a very clear and helpful metaphor for the type of impact that this kind of person of integrity has on the lives of those with whom she or he interacts. Dr. Cloud posits that each of us, as we move through the waters of life, leave behind a wake, like that left by boats as they pass through the ocean. There are two aspects to the "wake" that we leave behind - the tasks we have performed and the relationships we have built. "We leave a wake of people behind us as we move though their lives and their organizations. . .
So, we must ask ourselves, `What does that wake look like?' Are a lot of people out there water-skiing on the wake, smiling, having a great time for our having `moved through their lives'? Or are they are there bobbing for air, bleeding, and left wounded as shark bait?" (Page 18)
In Building Trust Through Connections, Cloud offers:
"The human heart will seek to be known, understood, and connected with above all else. If you do not connect, the ones you care about will find someone who will." (Page 70)
Applying this principle alone in most companies today would dramatically reduce the costs of employee theft, turnover, recruiting, retention and succession planning. In the chapter `In touch with reality" Dr Cloud starts with the story of the CEO of a dog food company who obstinately tries all possible ways to increase the sales of the company's product except in finding out what his ultimate customers really want. When finally explained to the CEO by an employee "Sir... the dogs don't like it", reality finally dawns. Dogs bark, but reality bites!
In sharing What People In Touch Look like, Dr. Cloud recounts an incident that happened on a retreat for CEO's, when a young "superstar" was given an opportunity to receive feedback from a more senior CEO.
"One of the more experienced guys looked up and said, `Want some feedback?' He said it in a way that left you wondering whether he was going to give sage advice or rail at the young man for being out to lunch in some way. There was just no way to tell from his poker face. But I will never forget the young superstar's immediate response: `By all means. Give me a gift.' He saw the feedback, whatever it was, as a gift because it could give him some reality that he did not know. I remember thinking, `We will be watching this guy's accomplishments for a long time.'" (Page 116)
Cloud then ratchets up the significance of this insight by suggesting a challenging way for us to put this principle of inviting feedback to a practical test: "If you want to know your comfort level in this matter, think of going to the people you work with or are in close personal relationships with and give them 100 percent permission to be totally honest with you in answering the question: `What is it like to be on the other end of me?'" (Pages 116-117)
Most business leaders I know will find something of value in this book that they can internalize and begin to apply immediately - for their own benefit and for the benefit of all those who are "surfing their wake."
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