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Leadership Traits Include Empathy and Integrity

I appreciated some excellent comments from yesterdays post about a survey identifying the Top Ten Leadership Skills.

What would you put in the list? What skills or qualities do you think are most important for a leader?  Leave a comment below and let us all know.

One comment suggested that empathy was an important trait. I would agree. I think that empathy is embodied in the two skills listed in the survey – integrity and relationship building. Empathy is understanding and understanding builds relationships of respect.

Integrity involves making judgments and taking actions that are not self-interested but that are best for the whole of the group. While fanatics have uncompromising zeal for a goal or cause, leaders with integrity have uncompromising commitment to judgments that are best for their community of followers.  This judgment cannot serve the needs of the community of followers without empathy.  Leaders must solicit, respect and value the views of others. Leaders cannot allow these views to carry more weight in a decision if they are accompanied by money, power or political influence.

I think it is interesting that the word “integrity” is often used to describe not just people or their behavior but also objects. For example, a computer system is described as having integrity as long as it is not breached or corrupted by error. Integrity represents wholeness, intactness and purity in objects. Likewise, these same qualities can and should apply to leaders. Leaders with integrity cannot be breached or corrupted by outside influence. Their character is impervious to external pressure and grounded in morals or ethics that are immovable. By standing for something, leaders with integrity draw followers because followers know where their leaders stand at all times. Followers draw strength and confidence from this assurance.

If you are unsure about this principle of leadership, think about the recent scandals. In each case, whether Enron, WorldCom or how the Mark Foley situation was handled, the people in these cases let an external influence (political advantage, money, power, prestige) breach their character. In most cases of corruption, I would suggest that the people around leaders convince them that their behavior is justified or acceptable. Accepting any outside influence or opinion to justify your personal actions is a sign that your integrity has been breached. Beware, this pressure may come from your boss, shareholders, the competition, stock market analysts, a board of directors or your spouse.

At Enron,enron stock.jpg the words "Respect. Integrity. Communication. Excellence." were found in many places, the least of which was the company’s stock certificate. Despite its well thought purpose, the integrity of the Enron system that included "Respect. Integrity. Communication. Excellence." was breached.

From the blog “Moving at the Speed of Creativity,” came this quote from a Tulane professor, “Good people do horrendous things in the workplace because they don’t see the situation as an ethical dilemma. They see it as a business problem to be solved.” 

Integrity looks beyond the business problem to judge right from wrong. The best leaders and those that follow them know this.



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