Leading With Integrity

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Categories: Leadership

A few months ago, I wrote about the essential principles of leadership, and one seemed to have really struck a chord with readers. That principle is integrity. And, as I prepared to write some thoughts on the role of integrity in leadership, several examples of why integrity is so important jumped to mind. 

Take the case of the United States senator accused of plagiarizing his college thesis paper, or the seemingly lenient penalty that the National Football League commissioner laid down on one of the league's stars over a domestic violence incident, when other comparable infractions have drawn much stronger responses. 

What these two situations have in common is a lack of integrity that, on the surface, seems to be driven by taking the easy way out. Integrity is often defined as "doing the right thing when no one is watching." I don't think that is an appropriate enough definition, though. Integrity is the act of doing the right thing, even if it is extremely difficult. 

That being said, here are a few tips on how you can lead your project teams with integrity:

1. Lead honestly. The foundation of leadership and integrity is leading with honesty. You can't tell everyone everything they want to hear all the time and still get things done. Business doesn't work like that and life doesn't work like that. So to be a high-integrity leader, you need to be honest in all cases. As Erika Flora, PMP, PgMP, told me recently, being a leader requires you to "be brutally honest and provide feedback that sometimes people just don't want to hear." You can put this to work by setting clear and realistic expectations of your team, sponsors and stakeholders at the beginning, and not allowing yourself to be tied down to unrealistic expectations just to make everyone happy.

2. Take ownership. I've been in a number of organizations that faced a challenge of ownership in their projects. What that means is people are running around with big titles and the expectation is that those who report to them will jump at their slightest utterance. And as long as everything is moving along according to plan, everything is great. But as soon as the project goes off track, the "leader" is looking to point fingers and place blame to help relieve his or her responsibility. Don't do that. Being a leader and having integrity means you have to take responsibility for your performance and your team's, good or bad. As a leader, you should always start the project by telling your team something along the lines of, "Ultimately, I am responsible for the success or failure of this project, but I can't do it without you."

3. Share the spotlight. To be a strong leader of high integrity, you need to allow your team members to receive some of the glow and adulation that comes with goals achieved, projects delivered that exceed expectations and overall high performance. Allowing your team members to receive this share of the attention will make it much easier for you to get buy-in on tough issues or tricky situations in the future because they'll see you as the kind of manager who allows them to receive recognition. By the same token, when it comes to delivering bad news and accepting criticism, allowing yourself to receive the blame and not looking to share that blame with your team will engender a great deal of goodwill. And never, ever look to use one of your team members as a scapegoat for something that is ultimately your responsibility.

How do you see integrity playing out in your current team?
Posted by David Wakeman on: August 26, 2014 11:07 AM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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I greatly enjoyed this article, David. Thank you. I might add that living a life of integrity will result in it following one into the project management arena.

I believe that a willingness to please combined with a lack of know-how can too often lead to unethical behavior. What this article underscores is how difficult a project manager's job can be and the critical nature of having the tools to do the job. This includes understanding and questioning the why's behind deadlines and deliverables, especially ones which can be considered unrealistic. Armed with this knowledge, one should then be able to negotiate more realistic deadlines or deliverables. This means project managers need expertise in elicitation and negotiation in order to avoid a disastrous outcome and the perception of lacking integrity. I think not knowing how combined with a willingness to please too often lead to accommodation where results are in jeopardy. Rather than go that route and while improving skills (elicitation, negotiation, scheduling), it is better to simply ask "How Do I?" This is a great forum for doing just that.

Finally, not too long ago I read a book, "Death March" by Edward Yourdon. It is an excellent book on the types of projects and environments in existence today. Mr. Yourdon offers much advice on how to handle different types of projects. It is a very realistic book written from having spent years in the trenches. I highly recommend it.

Brenda, thank you for your comment. I will check out the book, you know I can always use a few extra PDUs and I love to read.

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