Leading with Integrity
Adjunct Instructor of Leadership
Sacred Heart University Luxembourg
Imagine you are a financial services firm entitled to charge your clients a certain commission specified in formal bank-client contractual documentation. However, no one in your financial services market charges that commission to clients. Clients can easily leave you for a competitor that charges 0 commissions on all transactions. Hence, it’s just not done or wise to do. However, quarterly commission targets need to be met. As a manager of your financial services firm meeting commission targets implies a substantial bonus in variable pay. Thus the manager applies the commission and gets the bonus. Has this manager led with integrity or acted on the desire to benefit personally?
As an Adjunct Instructor of Leadership at the Sacred Heart University Luxembourg, I teach an MBA course titled “Leading and Influencing with Integrity.” It is our mission to embed integrity onto leaders. Integrity is a personal quality that encompasses behaviors demonstrative of strong ethics, moral principles, and values. As Donald Cressey suggested in 1951, for embezzlement to occur, the following three precursors must be present simultaneously: Perceived pressure from a non-shareable problem, perceived opportunity for trust violation, and finally rationalization which is the justification an individual may use to commit fraud. In its simplest form, if how you rationalize and make decisions is unethical due to your very personal view of what is right, wrong, and acceptable to do, then there is a chance you will exercise fraud or embezzlement leading to lack of leadership integrity. Maybe Carlos Ghosn can tell us how come he thought the Château de Versailles was making a gift of €50,000 to him on his wedding. The Château de Versailles of course had no intention to hand over such a gift and charged Renault directly Mr. Ghosn’s wedding expense. This went unnoticed until Renault investigated.
When we have examples of senior leaders exercising lack of integrity, this may have a direct impact on the behaviors and existence of the entire organization. How do we therefore prepare existing and future leaders to act with more integrity? Lack of leadership integrity leads to lack of trust amongst all stakeholder groups including investors, clients, and employees.
According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, the US dropped from the “Truster” category of nations in 2017 to the “Distruster” category in 2018 with a 23 point drop. Across NGOs, Business, Government, and Media sectors, trust isn’t being recovered. Out of these four sectors, the Government sector saw the largest decline in trust with a 14 point loss when compared to 2017 results. To make matters worse, the report highlights how 7 in 10 people worry about fake news being used as a weapon. To put it in other terms: “Who you’re going to trust?” Well, good news, the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer mentions that CEOs are regaining credibility. Why are CEOs faring better in credibility?
According to a Strategy& PwC report on CEO success and ethics,
Boards of directors, institutional investors, governments and the media are holding chief executive officers to a far higher level of accountability for ethical lapses than in the past. Globally, CEO dismissals for ethical lapses increased from 3.9% of all successions in 2007-2011 to 5.3% in 2012-2016—a 36% increase.
This higher level of dismissals is not as a result of more unethical conduct but directly related to more accountability and oversight. Thus at this stage I ask, what is the future of leadership trust and integrity?
The Future of Trust and Integrity Report from the World Economic Forum clearly lays out a framework to act on the need to enhance trust and integrity. The report details actions to follow at the institutional, behavioral, and technological dimensions.
While new legal requirements at the institutional level can reinforce integrity, knowledge and institutional capacity to implement compliance changes will be important.
At the behavioral level, it is as important to reward compliant behavior as it is to call out bad practices. Think of this one in a country where bribery is normal and you don’t get things done unless you reward the corrupt ecosystem. How do you break this habit? Corporations, regulators, and educators such as universities should clearly lay out what is and isn’t acceptable and the respective consequences. It is as important to highlight cases of leaders following and complying with the rules as it is to call out cases where rules are not being followed. I find this to be a brilliant effort to change behaviors and to break icecaps of corruption.
Finally, e-governance, blockchain, open data, and big data analytics can certainly help with corruption and transparency. By making technology a trusted source of relevant data, corruption will have less of a chance to emerge due to the availability of the same information for all relevant stakeholders.
Leading with integrity is paramount to address the challenges society faces with financial crises, the political landscape, climate change, and societal movements led by younger generations. Sacred Heart University Luxembourg has organized a “Leading with Integrity” conference and panel on March 13 in Luxembourg to discuss how we can lead with integrity in various settings. We are welcoming industry leaders from the private sector, from government, European institutions, international financial institutions, human resources directors, MBA alumni and the larger public to attend.
Registrations are being accepted through the following link containing panelist and logistical information.
Eros Sharma, M.S.
Human Capital Services Consultant