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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 22-Feb-06


Wednesday 22-Jan-06

Leadership and integrity in change

Integrity is both a part of who you are and what you do. It is about being true to your values, no matter what. And if those values are admired by others, you have the makings of a great leader, particularly in times of change.

We often have two sets of values: normal values and stress values. In most situations, with normal values at the fore, we follow social rules of consideration and trustworthiness. But when pressured, our underlying stress values come to the fore. For many people these are more about personal survival and any thought of putting others first goes out of the window. Where that stress line is where we flip varies greatly between people. Some get selfish at the slightest discomfort, whilst others resist the temptation for a while longer. Integrity means pushing this barrier much further out, even to the point of self-sacrifice.

Two managers I once knew in a period of tough times epitomized high and low integrity. I will change names, but otherwise here is the story.

When impending job cuts were announced, Michael had already built a reputation of straight talking balanced by a broad concern. He cared about the organization and its goals. He cared about its customers. And he cared about his people. And they respected and trusted him, even when the disagreed with him.

William always sounded credible and talked with aplomb and assurance and many acquaintances liked his friendly manner. Yet he was not popular as a manager. He would give unclear direction and then indirectly criticize what you did. He would regularly change direction. If pressed, he would duck and weave. As a result, his people neither trusted nor liked him.

Michael was intelligent and certain. A spell in the military had taught him the importance of clarity, communication, courage and integrity. Doing the right thing was important to him, both professionally and personally and he was prepared to stand up and take fire to expose what he thought was wrong and say what he believed was right.

Despite the assured exterior, William was not a sure person. His ability to talk a good talk had sailed him through interviews and up organizational ladders, but he lacked the courage of his convictions. What seemed like a good idea one day was not so sure the next. In particular, when he felt threatened (which was very frequently) he would quickly start to satisfice, seeking the easiest route to safer territory.

When business went bad and the cuts came, Michael promised his people that he would do his best for them, but could not make promises. William first told his people that nothing would change, but then endorsed a message saying massive change was inevitable.

In management meetings, Michael stood up for his people but was prepared to make cuts when there was a clear case. In the same meetings, William criticized and blamed his people and quickly agreed to wholesale reform.

In the longer term, Michael succeeded and was promoted, whilst William lost the respect of his people, the confidence of higher management, and ultimately his job. No doubt his gift of the gab meant he talked his was in elsewhere, but I fear that he missed the lesson of integrity.

Your comments

I really like your "normal and stress" value distinction. I have called this primary and secondary values after the work of David Wolf. I think that recognizing the possibility of this shift is key to effective management.

-- Kathryn A

Dave replies:
There's an extension to this, Kathryn. I'm currently reading Rita Carter's book 'Multiplicity', which views us as a collection of personalities, with the implication that each personality can have different beliefs, values, etc. Thus we can have different values at work, at home, when we are happy, angry, etc. It's perhaps a degree of how integrated the person is by which the separate personalities have commonality amongst their drivers and deep systems.

Over the past three years as a senior leader, I lead an organization who is 130 years old this year through a life saving turnaround. You absolutely must manage your stress values as during tough changes through a very thick organizational culture can be very difficult. The key to the success is to have a very clear vision of the end game and where the company needs to go to grow and be healthy again. Then believe in your core values and drive the change with clear communication of the successes that are leading your team to the end goal. What I found was the hardest obstacle to manage was the stress values of my peers and the leader who wanted the change to happen faster. I believed in the people with who we lead, my core vales of transparent leadership, integrity and teamwork, and the vision of what the success looked liked to drive real change. Managing your stress values are not easy, but can and must be done. We are humans and stress does generate uncommon behaviors.

-- Keith R S.

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