What it takes to become a Transformational Leader – Leading with Integrity

7th February 2020

Global competition and transparency is forcing business leaders to find new ways to compete and retain talent.

Shifting consumer trends and millennial participation in the workforce is placing new pressure on leaders and managers to balance integrity with purpose, profit, and people to compete. 

Managers can no longer rely on dated people management practices and now must embrace the idea of people before profit. Those who do, outperform their competitors by up to 42% (2018 Global Leadership Forecast, DDI). Those who don’t, risk reputational and brand damage.  

If you’re looking to build your ability to lead and progress your career, these Transformational Leadership principles based on 35 years of independent evidence, science, and research will help hone your leadership impact and navigate the future of work.

The Importance of Integrity

In Australia alone, we’ve seen Royal Commissions highlight questionable leadership behaviour and a lack of moral and ethical judgement.

These Royal Commissions have placed a magnifying glass on ingrained attitudes and decision-making practices that have shaped decades of relatively profitable operation and growth.

But with growing transparency riding on the wave of social media, managers and leaders are becoming publicly accountable for their actions and decisions. 

Consumers are voting with their feet and wallets. Millennials want to work in businesses they can trust and are willing to move to find balance and purpose. Fifty-six percent of respondents in a global survey are willing to pay more for socially responsible brands aligned with sustainable practice and values. 

Business leaders who demonstrate integrity and strong ethical practices enhance their ability to compete and attract investors, talent, and customers. But what is integrity?

Define Integrity and What’s Acceptable Behaviour

If you ask any manager or leader about integrity, they will most likely tell you they are pro-honesty. 

Whilst there may be very good intentions, most people don’t take the extra step to translate their definition of integrity into real life behaviours and model it for their teams. If we say we want integrity but don’t define our principles and role model them to our teams, what messages are we sending?

Here’s a short thought exercise to understand what you value and what you find acceptable. 

Ask yourself:

  • What do I value most in life? What do I stand for? What is my purpose?
  • What will I let slide and what will I fight tooth and nail for? 
  • What are the boundaries I would never cross? 

By thinking about your values and moral decision-making framework, you start to set a strong foundation for understanding and then demonstrating your own personal values through your work. 

For a deeper definition and a wonderful rabbit hole of research, evidence, and application, here’s a research article on a conceptual framework by Palanski and Yammarino (2009).

Demonstrate Integrity Through your Behaviours

Understanding what’s important to you is one half of the equation. Demonstrating them through your behaviours so that others can understand is equally if not more important.

How will others know what you stand for if you don’t talk about your values with them?

Here are five practical ways leaders and managers can develop and display integrity at work:

1. Talk about your most important values and beliefs. This might seem straight forward, but 40% of the C-Suite leaders we’ve assessed over the last 35 years talk about their values and beliefs only once every so often. Hold conversations with your team about what each of you individually value. Start conversations by saying “I value…”

2. Emphasise the importance of having a strong sense of purpose to your team. Communicate your why. Show your team how their work contributes to different aspects of the business and the value it creates for your clients.

3. Consider the moral and ethical consequences when decision-making. When making important decisions, take the time to ask your team “Are we doing the right thing”. Explain your decision-making process or why you didn’t choose a particular course of action. Acknowledge the ethical or moral factors that influenced your decisions and describe these to your team.

4. Hold yourself accountable to your team. Take responsibility for your actions and hold yourself accountable not only to your own superiors, but also to your peers, team, or other stakeholders. Deliver on your commitments and don’t over promise when you think it can’t be done. People don’t expect you to be perfect, so don’t be afraid to own up to your mistakes and commit to addressing the problem.

5. Seek feedback on how others view you. Take the time to ask those around you for behavioural feedback. Ask your manager, colleagues, or team about what you do well and what you could improve on. Ask them how often they’ve seen you talk about your values, demonstrating integrity, or holding yourself to account.

Business leaders who demonstrate integrity and strong ethical practices enhance their ability to compete and attract investors, talent, and customers.”

What’s Next?

Integrity is a word we hear more and more every day. Investors, employees, and consumers empowered by social platforms are demanding that businesses act with integrity, transparency, and social responsibility.

But without an evidence-based framework for defining and displaying integrity, managers and leaders with good intentions are more likely to fall short and risk reputational or competitive damage.

At Measured Leadership Qualities (MLQplus) we hold the fundamental belief that every individual can become a truly transformational leader with the right support, evidence, and proven approaches. Our accredited partners, coaches, and HR leaders leverage 35 years of science and evidence to build Transformational Leadership capability with emerging and established leadership teams across Australia. Connect with our accredited partners to unleash Transformational Leadership potential and create measurable impact.

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