Twenty-one authors from Lead Change came together to write a book entitled “The Character-Based Leader,” and it serves as a field guide for leaders who want to exemplify integrity in all that they do and say.
Being a leader is more than a title. In fact, there are few who have “leader” in their title. Being a leader is something demonstrated in words and actions by a person. It is about trust. It is about trust in action. Good leaders make trust active.
Susan Mazza is one of the authors, and I had an opportunity to ask her a few questions about “The Character-Based Leader” book and her experiences in working with this group of leaders. Highlighted below is the first part of this interview, focused on the topic of integrity.
You point out in the book that personal integrity is essential for effective character-based leadership. What role, if any, does organizational integrity play? How do the two potentially relate together?
Mazza: Just as it is important to have a personal code of ethics, it is equally important for an organization to have one, which includes doing the hard work to make sure that the individuals and the organization are and remain aligned.
All too often organizations try to enforce behavior with policies and procedures. They can lose sight of the fact that ultimately the relationship between any organization and those they serve is created in the moment to moment transactions between individuals. It’s in the grey areas – when the situation doesn’t match the policies and procedures – that those individuals have to make decisions.
If the individual’s values and beliefs don’t line up with those of the organization they represent, chances are they are not going to make the moment to moment choices that represent the organization very well.
When you look at the business world, specifically today, do you see more character-based leaders or less?
Mazza: I don’t think it is a matter of more or less. What I have seen over the last 10 years or so is a shift in the expectations people in organizations have of people in leadership positions. Those with strength of character are more likely to succeed in their positions, not only because of what they know, but their ability to influence rather than mandate how people rally behind and work alongside them to make things happen. The fundamental change I see is that position doesn’t carry the same automatic respect it once did.
You use the word “authenticity” to describe an important element of personal integrity. How do we prevent authenticity from becoming another buzz word?
Mazza: I think it’s fair to say it already has become a buzzword. Yet it is a very potent word that I believe captures the essence of the notion of “walking your talk.”
What is more concerning to me than it becoming a buzzword though is that people often think they can be the judge of someone else’s authenticity. If I define what I think you should do and how you should be based on my own belief system then I am not judging your authenticity, but rather judging you against my expectations.
In a complex and increasingly interconnected world we are faced with making choices that are often paradoxical. It can be so easy to misjudge someone’s motives and intentions from the outside looking in.
In the end authenticity is about your relationship with yourself so I think the key is to keep asking yourself “are my words and deeds consistent with who I want to be?” By consciously creating and living from your own personal code of ethics – the values and beliefs that you choose to live by – I do think you can build that important bridge between being authentic and being perceived as authentic.
It’s also important to remember that authenticity is an aspiration. You are leading with character when you do the hard work of walking your talk consistently over time. That doesn’t mean you do it all the time. We all fall down on occasion. Leading with character isn’t about being perfect, but rather about being mindful enough to recognize when you err and committed enough to do what you need to do to correct course.
About Susan Mazza. Susan is the managing partner and president of Clarus Consulting Group and has worked with organizations and leaders for over 20 years to substantially improve the performance of their people and their organizations. Her blog is Random Acts of Leadership and follow Susan on Twitter @susanmazza.
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