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Does Having Integrity Make Us Too Nice To Be Effective Leaders
by Anne Duncan

I attended a most enjoyable breakfast meeting recently, the topic was “Integrity….it’s what women want!” Some of the comments made and tales told left me wondering why there is such a wide gulf between the differing styles of leadership in some corporations today.

It seems that our working life has become more complex with companies in a constant state of change. Some are changing in a very positive way, dispensing with the ‘command and control’ culture that became prevalent in the 80’s, now recognizing their employees as being their most valuable asset and an excellent source for new ideas and initiatives. Unfortunately there are also many companies with leaders who insist on keeping a draconian level of control, refusing to consider any notion of a change in their style of leadership being warranted. These same companies tend to be the very ones men and women find it so difficult to work and to progress their careers in.

This left me with the question of why such leaders seem so reluctant to change. Is there a hidden agenda they are committed to that we can’t see, or do they simply think that having integrity in business would make then “too nice” to be effective leaders, too easily overruled?

Integrity is not just about being honest and upright; self-awareness and empathy are two key elements of the integrity equation. I believe if we are always seen to be trustworthy and honest, people are much more willing to impart information to us, believe what we say and to work with us towards our goals.

Self-awareness is about knowing ourselves; our strengths and limitations; understanding the impact we have on others. To be truly effective, we must orient ourselves around our values and have self-respect. If we gauge our actions accordingly, then surely we can’t go too far wrong.

Empathy is about being socially and politically tuned in; listening to, recognising and reading emotions in others, seeing things from their point of view; definitely a very valuable skill when negotiating. If we understand our opponent’s point of view, then we are in a much stronger position to attain the agreement we want. Does this make us “too nice”?

Change is vital for future success. By seeking to lead change, we are helping our organization to remain competitive and grow, creating opportunities for individuals to enrich their personal and business lives. We should encourage employees to generate ideas involving them in the planning and implementation of these ideas. Not everyone happily embraces change, not all see it as a potential opportunity for advancement; therefore leaders must be seen to understand the concerns of employees when implementing any changes, thus greatly increasing the chances of a smooth transition.

Effective people management is essential for a successful leader; we must be seen as a people person who has the best interests of both the organization and our employees at heart. A climate of openness needs to be engendered, in which people are not afraid to speak out, and share their ideas and opinions. The outcomes of extensive human performance research show, that the skills which make the greatest contribution to success in corporate organizations, as well as individual careers, are the 'soft' skills. The ability to communicate, to inspire, to accommodate change and to lead others, these consistently outrank the 'hard' skills, such as technical and academic competence. Knowing this, many companies have introduced personal development programmes no longer limited to top management, but available throughout the organization, all employees learning to work more effectively together. Training and mentoring is vital if we are to achieve our maximum potential. If we can’t find a suitable mentor within our own company then we must look elsewhere.

If a company reverberates with a leader’s energy and enthusiasm the organization thrives; if a leader spreads negativity and dissonance it flounders. Far from making us “too nice” to lead, it seems to me that working with Integrity makes us a much more inspirational leader. This brings me back to my original question. Why are some leaders so resistant to the idea of such a change?

As more people step into leadership positions and show that leadership with integrity is not only more desirable from a moral standpoint, but also highly effective, with a proven increase on the bottom line, then surely a positive change must eventually occur. Judging by the enthusiasm I found amongst my fellow delegates around the breakfast table, I’m sure we are moving swiftly, ever closer to that goal.

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Anne Duncan is a Life Skills and Business Coach working mainly with Small Business Owners and Independent Professionals. Anne firmly believes that we can learn how to ‘get out of our own way’ which will take us to a higher level, personally as well as professionally? Principal of Harmonia Life Skills and a member of the International Coach Federation, Anne can be contacted by visiting

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