Integrity: It Is Who We Are That Matters

Whilst having a conversation with someone recently, the topic turned to leadership and what we do here at Leadership Platform.  She shared that she was a little frustrated with us because we are always saying that we believe all people to be leaders, but then seem to only feature big name leaders from big name companies in our columns.

Her frustration is understandable, and might reflect some of your feelings as well. 

There are various reasons we are so selective when we choose the leaders we interview and then share about. I am not going to get into our reasoning today, but would like to focus on something that may help close the divide many often feel when comparing themselves with some of these high profile leaders we feature.

As we consider the myriad of different leaders we have sat with, there are some that have impressed us tremendously and others that have disappointed us.  And the question that I have asked myself time and again is: What is the difference between the person who has impressed and another who has not?

I have thought long and hard about this.  And there is an underlying, underpinning attribute that seems to be common among all those that we regard as seamless, excellent leaders. 

Let me introduce this attribute this way:

A while ago I was sitting with Adriaan Groenewald in the SA FM studios with Masechaba Moshoeshoe, host of the Talk Shop. We were discussing leadership and how we might assist our young people to become the leaders our country needs.  The conversation turned for a brief moment to the issue of voting.  And the question was asked how we might best do so – my response was that we need to move away from voting for a party that promises delivery of all sorts of things and begin instead to ask who we are voting for.

The ‘who’ is what I would like to address today.

In focusing on the ‘who’, the attribute I would like to consider and that differentiates average leaders from excellent, seamless leaders, is integrity.

In a few of our columns, and via a survey we conducted on our website, we focused on leadership trust and respect, and the vital role both play in the development and sustaining of excellent and seamless leadership.  If we dig deeper into both, we find that each has their foundation built in and upon integrity. 

So what is integrity?

A quick online search for the definition reveals three possibilities, according to Collins dictionary:   1. adherence to moral principles, honesty;   2. the quality of being unimpaired, soundness;   3. unity, wholeness   

Dee Hock, founder and CEO Emeritus of Visa, has this to say regarding integrity and leadership: “Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers.”

This is a powerful and very interesting statement when we begin to dissect it:  consider carefully the words he uses when referring to leading yourself – “…purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct.”  I believe if he had said more on the matter, he would have added that by focusing on these areas one is moving to create a ‘who’ identity that is consistent with what one says and does.

A person of integrity does not live for self, but for those around themselves and a higher purpose and vision.

How does one acquire integrity?  I believe it is done simply by doing what is honest, true and right, time and time again, regardless of the difficult consequences that might follow.  

As leaders we may find ourselves in situations where one of our subordinates has done something inappropriate at work and needs to face a disciplinary process, only this person is our friend.  If we choose to brush it under the carpet instead of doing what is honest, true and right, what happens to our integrity?  Another example that is so prevalent in our society at the moment can be found in the awarding of tenders.  How often have we heard of someone being awarded a contract that they are not truly able to fulfill, and when there is more digging the awarding of that contract was as a result of a personal relationship that existed or money that has been exchanged “under the table”? 

If we refer again to our definition of integrity from the Collins online dictionary, we can measure their conduct. In the above examples, did these people display “adherence to [generally accepted] moral principles”?  Were they honest?  Going forward can we consider them as sound, unimpaired individuals?  Is there really wholeness in their conduct?

If we can answer theses question in the affirmative as we analyze our own conduct each day, I believe that we will be well on our way to becoming the very leaders we admire for their extraordinary, seamless strength and accomplishments.

To conclude:

What I say to the individual I was discussing leadership with, and to you today is this:  The greatest leaders you or I know are those who have lived their lives with integrity.  You do not need to hold a prominent position to do so, and, in fact, those who find themselves in these positions we are so quick to envy often find themselves locked in a much bloodier battle over integrity than we might ever find ourselves.  And because of this, when we are able to find those we feel are seamless, excellent leaders, we have a duty to share their examples with you.

In going back to my comment on voting, who a person is will always herald what he or she will deliver.  “Often, the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour”, and if their lives are filled with moments of self-sacrifice, honesty, and integrity, we can be assured of their follow through on the promises and commitments they have made to us.

Warren Buffet, CEO Berkshire Hathaway, and self-made billionaire states it this way:  “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

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Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator. Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP or @LeadershipPform.




Founder of Future CEOs™ and co-host of the Future CEOs™ show on, Gareth seeks to empower high potential young executives and ambitious entrepreneurs as they push for CEO status.

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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