The Integrity Effect: Why Who You Are Matters for CEOs

How much can your clients trust your 
hand shake? Or your contracts? 

The most important thing you can do for your business is a strategy that can’t be measured with any metric. It can’t be reflected on a dashboard, reviewed in a quarterly report, or balanced on a spreadsheet.

The most important thing you can do for your company is to focus on your personal integrity.

Researcher Laura Reave, of the University of Western Ontario, has shown that leadership success begins with personal integrity, which is then reflected in ethical behavior. Reave’s findings encourage us to focus more on who you are instead of what you do. Being a leader with strong personal integrity can have a significant positive effect on follower trust, which extends your influence and creates an environment where employees are satisfied.

Our Return on Values research team saw the integrity effect in action at Integrated Project Management (IPM), a Chicago-area consulting firm that is nationally recognized for its strongly ethical leadership.

As part of all contracts, IPM’s CEO C. Rich Panico asks his clients to sign a personal recruiting restraint agreement saying the client will not seek to hire an IPM consultant for a staff position. A few years ago, a client violated this agreement and Panico’s consultant accepted the position and turned in her resignation. Panico had to determine how to face this ethical violation.

The client was unwilling to rescind the offer, and instead offered to pay a penalty. “I don’t want that money in my company,” Panico told the client. “It’s dirty money. That’s not how we make money in our company.” Instead, Panico asked the client to donate the money to charities the IPM staff selected; he also terminated the relationship with the client.

I’ve known Panico for a few years, and have had the privilege to interview him in a variety of contexts over several hours. In every encounter with him, I’ve been struck by the strength of his personal integrity, which he credits to his values-based upbringing. Panico’s employees know of his personal integrity too, and see it lived out in the ethical behavior of IPM. That shapes the expectations and behaviors of his team. It’s part of what has equipped IPM to grow steadily, even through a recession.  

But perhaps more importantly, from the recruitment incident, Panico’s staff learned that he, and his company, would make strong, ethical decisions even when the outcome meant losing a client. “I can tell you that our people—they were thrilled,” Panico said. “They applauded it because we put our money where our mouth was in that particular case.”

That kind of trust from your employees can’t be bought: it can only be earned.

Jim Ludema
Director | Center for Values-Driven Leadership | Benedictine University 

Multi-Generational Mentorship: Three Reasons to Mentor & Be Mentored

Last Friday was my first meeting with a young woman I've agreed to mentor professionally. She was prompt and professional and our conversation was polite and fluid. But she made one giant faux paus:

As I rushed into the appointment, I mentioned that I had just dropped my son off at school. A few minutes later, the young woman asked what college my son attended. Since my son is in kindergarten, I was taken aback (read: horrified) by the suggestion that I could have an 18 year-old son.

I corrected her mistake and she apologized (though not nearly as much as I thought was necessary!), and the conversation continued unharmed. But the event reminded me of just how important it is to mentor, and be reverse-mentored, across generational lines.

Our circle of colleagues can often be homogeneous, in terms of age, gender, race, and life experiences. When we step outside these circles, we find what we know to be a little less certain. Things look different to an 18 year-old, or a 70 year-old, than they do to me. They look different to a single mom than they do to a retired father of three. The skill sets you need to master the corner suite are changing, and that 18 year-old probably knows more about some of the skills than you do. And leadership styles - what used to work may be broke and will not work at all tomorrow.

Three Reasons to Mentor & Be Mentored

1. You have wisdom to share. 

When asked to mentor someone, one frequent excuse is that "I'm not sure I have any wisdom to share."  I know, as I sat down across from an eager young woman, this is exactly how I felt. Her age faux paus reminded me that from her perspective, I'm an accomplished and mature professional. And it turns out, I did have a little wisdom to share.

We learn skills and develop capacity over time. The professional skills you now employ on a daily basis may seem old-hat to you, but they are flashes of brilliance to someone at an earlier career stage.

2. You have wisdom to learn. 

Tom Walter, CEO of Tasty Catering, has spent the last 10 years aggressively learning from the younger leaders on his growing staff. Though it wasn't through formal mentorship, these young professionals were bold enough to suggest how Walter might need to develop as a leader ... and he was smart enough to listen.

He tells the story of letting go of his old leadership style in this short video:

3. You have skills to learn. 

Bob Johansen is a professional futurist: he predicts the future of business and technology to help businesses be nimble in the face of change. Johansen says "digital natives," today's teens who are being raised in an age of abundant digital technology, do not see a clear delineation from their "online" and "offline" lives.

Those of us who weren't raised with laptops and cell phones struggle to fully grasp the super-connected future because digital technology is our second language. Your long-term usefulness as an executive may be dependent on your ability to learn this digital language, and for that you need a tutor. Johansen recommends reverse-tutoring: asking a 14 year-old to mentor you in video games, social media, and computer languages.

See more of Johansen's thoughts regarding reverse-mentoring in this video:

How has mentorship - being mentored, or mentoring someone else - helped you reach professional and personal goals? Share your story here.

Amber Johnson is the CVDL's corporate relations advisor and a non-profit and small business communications specialist. She writes about forgiveness, and other non-business topics, on her blog,