Warren Buffett has provided plenty of hiring advice over the years. The billionaire's 
wisdom isn't exactly earth-shattering. For example, Buffett advises leaders to weigh integrity the heaviest of all traits when selecting top talent:  

"We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. And if they don't have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you're going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb."

Buffett points to a person's character as the prime billing for a hiring decision. Without it, the most important element in your business's success is missing: trust.

But do enough business leaders truly heed Buffett's advice when hiring people into key positions, especially within the leadership ranks? While conventional wisdom would say this is common sense, it is much less common practice. 

The reason is decision makers remain attracted to illusive things like achievements, a "rock star" status or reputation, or mad technical or creative skills in a particular field -- at the expense of hardwired integrity.

Why hire for integrity first.

Joel Peterson, chairman of JetBlue and author of the book The 10 Laws of Trust, was a recent guest on my podcast. He said "you'll find things go more rapidly, you innovate more, people are more flexible and innovative, and they just have more fun," when employees exhibit traits of integrity in team settings.

Peterson says, "Having integrity means, among other things, that the gap between what you say you're going to do, and what you actually do, is small," which he refers to as the "say-do gap."

Let's dig a little deeper and make the business case for hiring people to build for a culture of integrity. To me, there are six fundamental traits that leaders with integrity embody:

1. Leaders with integrity draw others to them.

The ability to connect with others and be oriented toward the truth are two non-negotiable parts of a leader with integrity. In essence, this is someone who will leverage abilities to operate from honesty, treat others with respect, and reject wrongdoing to get real results. In turn, this is someone to whom people can easily gravitate.

2. Leaders with integrity care about the welfare of others.

In the long term, integrity trumps competence and charisma because it shows 
trustworthiness. In a world of empty promises, manipulation, and deception, a leader with integrity shows trust by caring for the well-being of others; she shows commitment to advancing the best interests of those around her. Leaders who fall short with their commitments to growing and improving their people will likely fail at forming lasting relationships that lead to results. 

3. Leaders with integrity are not afraid of change.

They work hard at developing their own character. They're intentional about receiving feedback and taking to heart the things about themselves that are no longer working, so they can learn, grow, and change for the better.

4. Leaders with integrity shine the spotlight on others.

They know they're the experts and understand the power they possess. What they don't do is take advantage of their status and hog the spotlight. They make a constant effort to praise and acknowledge an employee's contribution; they give them credit for exceptional work.

5. Leaders with integrity are approachable.

If you're going to lead with integrity, you need to be approachable. If you're not, it could hurt your leadership in several ways: 

  • Your employees may be less willing to share information for fear of disapproval;
  • Your team members may be disconnected from you; 
  • Your team members will fear taking ownership of their work, and will only look to you for answers.

To be approachable means promoting a culture where feelings of loyalty and safety are felt among staff. 

6. Leaders with integrity act selflessly.

They are people-centered leaders who aspire to lead by serving others first, and everything else follows. A true servant leader's aim is to unleash talent and creativity by extending trust to others. She fundamentally believes deeply in others -- and in their potential.