Updated: May 10, 2018
Is leadership a mathematical concept? Can the variables of what makes a successful leader be defined in one simple formula? After spending decades of observation I have come to the conclusion the answer is yes.
Growing up, I use to enjoy the weekly period in the elementary school library. That one small room held all the answers to every question I could come up with. I found myself absorbed with the section coded 921 in the Dewey Decimal system. For those from a more current generation, the 921’s were the biographies. I recall reading all of them. I devoured the books on Kennedy, Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Lee, Eisenhower and other political and military leaders. I also was captivated by books on business leaders. My favorite was one on F.W. Woolworth. Looking back, I always have been fascinated by what makes a good leader.
My conclusion on what creates a great leader is profoundly simple. Successful leadership, the ability to attract and motivate followers comes down to one word: Integrity.
In his excellent book, Aspire, author Kevin Hall uses etymology to define eleven key traits of successful people. His book defines Integrity with its Latin root, Integer. Integer is a mathematical concept meaning a whole number with a value that is rational and does not vary. Roget’s Thesaurus tells us the opposite of Integrity is duality, polarity, two-facedness and ambiguous.
In a review of leaders that have stood the test of time and are universally admired, it is often said that they were known for being principle driven and that it was clear what they stood for. Interestingly enough this does not mean they followed the rules all the time. Honest Abe Lincoln determined that the Emancipation Proclamation was not quite legal, nor within his defined constitutional powers, but it was the right thing to do.
In large degree, the issue with many leaders is they say one thing, do another, or worse, change what they do based on polls. In acting this way, the leaders appear to be manipulative, self-serving and just plain dishonest.
Having integrity also means leading consistently. A lack of consistency does not need to be confused with the ability to change, or grow. Leaders must act with changing circumstances, to roll with the punches. Consistency requires being honest always. Leaders cannot try to fool their people, exploit them, or otherwise hoodwink them. The Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC studied 21 derailed executives and compared them to 20 successful executives. Despite their significant strengths one error, when committed always led to their downfall. The unforgivable sin cited by the researches: betraying a trust.
One of my key mentors, my grandfather would tell me that a liar was worse than a thief because a stolen item could be replaced, but trust cannot. He went on to teach that lying was more work than simply telling the truth. Think about it, when a web of deceit begins, it must be maintained without a crack. In short, integrity takes less work.
Research shows that the number one reason people leave organizations is not inadequate pay or benefits. It is the relationship they have with the company leadership. It is vital that leaders lead with integrity. They remain whole and consistent with their word.
Having Integrity is deeper than how you are perceived and how you act around others. It is based on your inner integrity, are you honest and true to yourself. In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Be who you are. Be an integer. Esse quam videri!
Russell Lookadoo is the HR Guy for small businesses. His firm, HRchitecture, specializes in helping business leaders accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings three decades of experience designing Human Resources solutions that achieve business strategies in varied organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the nation’s second largest bank. Russell holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations. Visit his website at www.theHRGuy.biz