“Integrity alone won’t make you a leader, but without it you will never be one.”  - Zig Ziglar

Michelle Saul headshotMy favorite definition of ‘Integrity’ is “to make whole or complete.” I think of drawing a circle. The first part of the circle represents me giving someone my word to do something. The last half of the circle is me doing the actions that are required for me to keep my word. Completing the circle is a reminder that I am not whole until I do the work that creates completion.

In more than 25 years as an executive coach, I have had the privilege of working with many leaders, and in my experience, those leaders who have this intrinsic value of integrity are the ones who lead their teams to success by walking their talk. They lead by example. Great leaders understand that the standards they set at the top will filter throughout the company.

Great leaders also look to partner with Human Resources to help set and keep those high standards of accountability and performance. As the HR leader, you have a significant challenge regarding your own development and growth. While HR typically does a lot of work behind the scenes, when times get challenging, people often look to you for support and feedback. They expect HR to act swiftly, decisively and confidently. That might mean speaking up, and holding the leadership team to the same or even higher standards than the rest of the organization.

Intellectually understanding the value of integrity and accountability is one thing, but holding your own and other’s feet to the fire, however, requires overcoming the emotional obstacle of fear. When delivering a difficult or challenging message either to the leadership team or from the leadership team to the rest of the company, you may feel stretched to go beyond your personal need to be liked. This requires staying emotionally strong, and not taking things personally. In your actions it will be imperative that you walk the talk and model the change in behavior by keeping your word, and holding others accountable to keep theirs. Once past that emotional obstacle, counter-intuitively you will build trust and are more likely to be seen as caring, motivating and even inspirational.

In Herminia Ibarra’s new book, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, she builds a wonderful case for four simple steps to great leadership that are especially relevant for HR leaders:

  • First: Commit to building bridges between your team and others.
  • Second: Help to craft and explain the leader’s vision of the future.
  • Third: Be able to engage others in the change and to do what it takes to execute toward that vision.
  • Fourth: Embody the change necessary to move the company forward. Lead by example, authentically learning and adapting as needed along the way.

As David A. Garvin describes in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Leadership development should bring together a balance of “Knowing” (the acquisition of information), “Doing” (the application and practice of new skills), and “Being” (identifying the values and purpose that animates leaders).” Being the HR leader puts you in the perfect seat to help define your company’s values and to integrate them throughout your entire organization. As you become more confident in your own leadership abilities, your company benefits and will also grow in strength and integrity.

“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”   - Oprah Winfrey