Leadership in Integrity

by | August 03, 2012 Categories:

Leadership in Integrity

While participating in a coach certification program a number of years ago I was introduced to the concept of being “in or out of integrity”.  You are said to be “in integrity” when your actions and speaking are in alignment with your commitments.  You are said to be out of integrity when these are out of alignment.  Being out of integrity is a significant barrier to individual and collective effectiveness and success.  This concept is a potential framework for navigating the challenge of determining the boundaries between tolerance and intolerance.

In my previous post I referenced the Penn State debacle.  Leadership allowed the institution to become significantly out of integrity.


“The culture of every organization is shaped in large part by the behavior leaders are willing to tolerate”

At one level this challenge seems quite simple.  That is part of the problem.  We simply determine those things about which we disagree or feel uncomfortable and we become intolerant.  The dictionary describes intolerance as, “not tolerant, bigoted, irritable, unable to endure.”  Unfortunately this takes us back to the more negative attributes often associated with intolerance.  It is, in reality, very challenging.

Ronald Heifetz, in his book, Leadership without Easy Answers, identifies a primary leadership function as “mobilizing people to tackle tough problems”.  Identifying the boundaries between tolerance and intolerance is a shared responsibility for engaging a shared challenge. Three questions to engage an organization or community in this challenge are:

  •  What are we committed to doing as an organization or community?
  • Who are we committed to being as an organization or community?
  • How will we hold ourselves individually and collectively accountable to these commitments?

What we are committed to doing as a group addresses our common purpose and objectives for choosing to engage interdependently.  It grounds us in why we have chosen to be in relationship and what we will accomplish as a result of this relationship.

Who we are committed to being as a group addresses our core, shared values that we want to be reflected in the way we engage our purpose and in the outcomes of our work together.  The operant words here are shared values.  In their book, The Leadership Challenge, authors Kouzes and Posner identify “Model the Way” as the first “practice” of leadership.  This involves a commitment to:

  •  Clarify values by finding your voice and affirming shared ideals.
  • Set the example by aligning actions with shared values.

This sounds very much like a conversation about being in integrity.  For example a common value expressed by groups is their commitment to respect diversity of opinion.   It has too often been my experience that this commitment to respect lasts until significant diversity shows up.  Once we engage the diversity we feel justified in demonizing and vilifying those who see things differently than we do.

So maybe the challenge is how we express our intolerance for that which pulls us out of integrity.  Is it possible to be in integrity while committing to balancing tolerance and intolerance?  Is it possible to maintain respect and civility while at the same time challenging and confronting that which has the potential for pulling us individually and collectively out of integrity?

I choose to believe that it is.  It is risky to believe in the choice of either tolerance or intolerance.   Our challenge is to learn how to balance both tolerance and intolerance while remaining in integrity with the core values of a civil, safe, and respectful community.

This is by no means a simple task to be addressed in a single conversation.  It is, in fact, an ongoing task as we collectively engage the challenges that confront us and to which we have identified a mutual purpose.

What conversations might you be facing individually and collectively that challenge you regarding being in or out of integrity?   What will you choose to do about it?  Who will you choose to be?



One response to “Leadership in Integrity”

  1. Tricia Zurybida says:


    Thanks for helping me find the online SE Mediation brochure. Afterwards, I was “wandering” the website for a few minutes and came across your blogs. When I noticed the title of this one, I recalled the profound impact this had on me when we worked with this concept as a team of SE Directors in ESD 113 a couple of years ago. This idea has been integrated into my reflective practices and still grounds me. I would love to copy and share this blog entry with Hoquiam’s administrative team as a reflective piece and as an introduction to some work we had already planned. (I love it when the pieces begin to fall into place and link with one another.) May I please have permission to copy and paste your blog, with appropriate citation, to share with approximately 12 people?