Why is integrity an important leadership skill?

What is integrity?

The dictionary definition of integrity is ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles’. As well as being something to aspire to personally, there are many reasons why integrity is good for business.

Why is it important in business?

It’s now a well-recognised social trend that consumers are more aware of a company’s image and its ethical stance. They expect companies to care about morals and values, to be as interested in protecting society and the planet as much as driving profit. Global events such as the financial crisis, the pandemic and climate change have all highlighted the impact of bad business ethics. Social media has the power to make or break a company’s image if morally questionable practices come to light.

Ultimately, your perceived integrity will affect your bottom line. The best performing companies are seen to have a strong purpose, strong values, and a healthy culture – this encourages people to buy your products and services. Not only that, but a healthy culture also where people feel inspired, valued and encouraged will help you attract and retain amazing talent.

Why is integrity particularly important for leaders?

Leadership isn’t about delivering short term results, maximising margin to meet market expectations, or hitting delivery targets. It’s about how we do business. It’s about how leaders define an organisation’s social purpose and live by it, how they develop and inspire their people, and the steps they take to maximise the potential of the next generation.

For a business to have a moral compass, it needs to come from the top; the senior team has to lead by example. At People Puzzles, we consider integrity as a key element of building a strong company culture within businesses, and we often work with our clients’ senior teams to build an ethical framework for their business.

Building an ethical framework

There are a number of stages to go through if you want to be a role model in your industry.

  1. Accept you need to change. Admit you’re not perfect and that you may have to do some things differently.
  2. Have a discussion to explore what you’re doing right and what you could do differently. It helps to have someone from outside the business to facilitate these discussions. Start with the senior team but make sure you conduct a ‘360 review’ – inviting feedback from staff and customers with an ‘integrity survey’ or similar.
  3. Once you’ve gathered the feedback, decide what you want to do about it. Set out the principles or purpose you’d like the company to start living by. It might be reviewing whether your pricing is fair or investing more in your people with higher pay because they deserve it, or sourcing your raw materials more ethically and paying suppliers on time. Consider how these changes might affect your profit margin (while also bearing in mind the longer term benefits outlined above).
  4. Decide how far you want to go. Every company has different choices available to them and varying levels of expectation. The answers will not be the same for every business.

If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that behaviour can change, if people have the right motivation and will to do it. Building a framework based on integrity can help you build a more ethically minded business but there also has to be a strong cultural change – but it won’t happen unless the people at the top lead by example.

If you’d like help building an integrity framework for your business, give us a call on 020 3633 6830 to explore how we can partner with you to help build a strong company culture.

Alison Hilton

Alison Hilton, People Director

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