Fred Kiel in the research for his book Return on Character collected data on 84 CEOs and compared employee ratings of their behavior to company performance.
There are unfortunately so many examples that we can give of companies where the lack of integrity of the CEO brought the company down.
Even more tragic is the gap in that integrity that is so obvious for others to see but which the CEOs themselves do not, or will not, see.
These gaps in integrity, often unintentional, hold the leaders, their employees and their companies back.
Kiel describes high integrity CEOs as people who were humble and often had little concern for their own career success or compensation. He points out the irony that in many instances these CEOs did better in their careers than their self-centered counterparts.
At the same time, his research shows that companies under the guidance of a skilled, yet self-focused CEO, stand less chance of success than one led by someone with integrity.
He points out some integrity traps that can catch these self-focused leaders off guard.
Fostering a cult personality
These leaders often have such strong personalities that they start thinking that it’s their world and that they are able to do things their way, instead of realizing that they are in their position to serve others. High integrity leaders insist on questioning and criticism from people around them and realize that their path is not necessarily a “My Way” path.
It’s vital that a good leader can say “The buck stops here” and to own any errors. A business leader who sidesteps any accountability is often compared to a politician – not necessarily a good comparison. Good leaders feel confident enough in themselves and their decisions, to acknowledge failure when it occurs.
An important skill for a leader is emotional intelligence (EQ). The irony is that often these leaders possess these EQ skills but are blind to them when it comes to understanding themselves. They simply do not see what everyone else sees. They sometime play favorites, are tough to work with and receive criticism badly. They’re in good company though - research from TalentSearch shows that only about 36% of people are accurate in self-assessments.
Forgetting that communication is a two-way street
Many leaders think that they are great communicators but don’t realize that all of that “good” communication is in one direction. Some will cite examples of where they are approachable and easily accessible without realizing that they are not hearing what people are saying.
Not firing poor employees
Sometimes leaders feel sorry for poor performers or simply want to avoid the conflict or unpleasantness and so dodge a decision that needs to be made. While their compassion may be well thought of, their lack of action causes their company immeasurable harm, keeping someone who should be let go.
Succumbing to the paralysis of urgent
This is what happens when leaders spend their days putting out fires without focusing on the truly important aspect of the position, which is looking after people. They spend their time distracted by what is in front of their faces and not spending time with their people.
This gap is very often seen in more recently appointed leaders. They are used to having more tangible results to show for their performance and have not yet fully made the transition from a doer to a leader. They land up micromanaging and ignoring the important indication of integrity of a leader, which is to give people the freedom to do their jobs.
As we so often point out, the bad news is that these integrity gaps can be really damaging. The good news is that they are all fixable, once they have been acknowledged.