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Integrity - Who Is Behind The Message?

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

If honesty is the first tenet of proper leadership communication (as I wrote about previously), integrity must follow.

Writing about integrity has been a bit more challenging than I anticipated. Honesty and discretion, the other two tenets of strong communication (more to come on discretion), are directly linked to the words we chose. It can often be challenging to design messaging that meets these demands - but the goal is straight forward. Integrity is different. Integrity is about what's behind the message - what's between the lines. The only way to build integrity that lasts is to show up with honest language and keep your word, over and over again. Without it, your message is meaningless.

Here is a low stakes example: I recently heard a podcast on how leaders can best show up for their team. The leadership coach said, "When individuals lead conversations with their accomplishments - when they share levels of publicity (likes and followers) - they are too concerned with sharing their success that they lose sight of their audience's specific needs." I agreed. He continued, "I have gathered this information from the hundreds of people I have worked with over the years - from billionaires, to Steve Jobs and GE - the list goes on and on so you can trust me."

Any communicator, leader or advisor who uses the words "trust me," does not have an audience who believes in their integrity and therefore, I am automatically wary of their message. In this case, it didn't help that this so called leader did the very thing he was telling his listeners not to do- he led with his accomplishments rather than the value he can offer... "Trust me. I have worked with very accomplished people."

Of course there are many circumstances where sharing accolades is appropriate. However, here, instead of standing with integrity, he did what he told everyone not to do and it is this hypocrisy that leaders must avoid.

Now, assume this coach was the CEO of a large company or the leader of a country. Stakes are higher. Leaders must consider what is behind their message and build an integrity story for their audience.

Integrity - Do What You Say

What if, as a leader, you communicate a message that is honest (first communication tenet), share a company challenge and solution, and now need to change that said solution. How do you maintain integrity if your actions must change? Simple, refer back to tenet #1 and communicate honestly. Honestly explain why the strategy must change and give insight into the reasons for both this message and the previous one. Being honest builds integrity - they go together.

Questions all leaders with integrity ask themselves:

1) How have I shown up for my team/audience consistently?

2) How do I own my mistakes?

3) How do I ensure that all members of my audience hear my message?

4) How can I explain the challenge of this situation in a way that doesn't instill fear? (more of this later)

5) How do I convey sincerity with my voice, message and actions?

As I have mentioned before, speaking the truth and sticking to your word may be uncomfortable and unpopular. But, it is straightforward. Set your goal, be clear on how you are going to get there, and always be honest.

This post is part of a series on leadership communication. Check out the other posts here:

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