Billionaire Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has no shortage of advice about the simple habits that separate successful leaders from everyone else. 

Buffett has been telling us about the importance of one non-negotiable trait you should find in people: integrity. The Oracle of Omaha said:

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.

Having interviewed countless senior leaders over the years, I attest that integrity is one striking business trait that reflects the best of them, and enough studies will back it up. 

Tony Simons in The Integrity Dividend argues for integrity as the predominant characteristic that "touches every aspect of your business." When practiced in its best form, says Simons, integrity enhances the value of the business and drives profitability.  

Research conducted by ProHabits set out to discover the top core values of the biggest companies on the planet. Out of 2,057 values gathered from nearly 400 organizations (including the likes of Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft), their study found that 55 percent of Fortune 100 organizations have integrity listed as a top core value--and the trend seems to trickle down to organizations of all sizes.

Six sure ways to increase your integrity

When we don't have the capacity to intentionally live out of our own integrity as leaders, it will have an adverse effect on us functionally and relationally. It will also limit the growth of the businesses we lead. To avert disaster, try putting these strategies into daily practice:

1. Communicate openly.

A person of integrity keeps the lines of communication open with everyone in the organization. He or she gives access for others to express concerns or raise questions that can be addressed in a timely fashion. He or she knows that open and honest communication is not only the ethical thing to do; it's what builds trust and increases value, so work gets done efficiently, and without barriers, bureaucracy, or politics. 

2. Practice what you preach.

Do you follow through on your promises or commitments? Leaders walking the talk of integrity deliver on "doing the right thing" and set a good example. Of course, they allow room for mistakes and failure (they're human, after all), but they hold themselves accountable to a high standard absent of outside influences. 

3. Stay positive during tough situations.

Take an unhappy customer or a disgruntled co-worker, for example. High integrity in a leader will show up by staying calm and positive during tough conversations; it also shows up with firmness and boundaries to set limits on people during spiraling disagreements and unhealthy conflict.

4. Don't wear a mask.

How would you feel if, every day, you said what you meant, stayed true to yourself, and behaved in accordance with this? Imagine the happiness and self-respect you'd feel. Being true to yourself is far less stressful than being someone you are not. By being who you really are, you not only trust the judgments and decisions that you make, but others trust you as well. They'll respect you for standing by your values and beliefs.

5. Be assertive.

Let's accept the fact that conflict is unavoidable when human beings are involved. Rather than being passive-aggressive and conflict-avoidant, leaders with integrity courageously run toward the eye of the storm. They are keenly aware that cutting through conflict with active listening skills to understand the other person is a much faster solution to resolving an issue than the negative consequences of running away from conflict.

6. Display emotional honesty.

Leaders with integrity don't say things to sugarcoat, try to please others, or look good in front of their peers. They don't betray themselves or others by using words or making decisions that are not aligned with who they are at the core of their beings. These leaders speak clearly, honestly, and with integrity, especially when the rubber meets the road. 

Bringing it home.

When leaders work in integrity, you're seeing their character in full view. You don't question who they are or whether they have your best interest in mind (because they always do).

Because their actions are open for everyone to see, you don't worry about whether they're hiding anything from you. To bring it home, Hall of Fame football coach Tony Dungy writes in his book, Uncommon: "Integrity, the choice between what's convenient, and what's right." 

Published on: Aug 15, 2019
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