Create A Standard Of Integrity

The Mustang GT accelerated smoothly as I put her through the gears. With tremendous torque at the top end of the power curve, the engine’s throaty rumble seemed to express joy when it was being wound out. The racing seat and four-point harness, sized for slimmer hips, was snug but kept me solidly in place as we took the curves of a winding wine country back road. I feel like a young man again.

The Mustang is only temporarily mine. I get the privilege of babysitting it while my oldest son, an Air Force officer, and his wife do a tour of duty overseas. In return for keeping the Mustang in our garage, every couple of weeks I get to take it out for a spin to keep the battery charged and to move the oil around the engine. With all the racing modifications, the car is barely street legal…which makes it a whole lot of fun to drive. Whenever the Oregon rain lets up and the temperature rises above 50 degrees (for some reason related to the composition of the tires on the car, I’m forbidden from driving it when the temperature is too low), I take the “pony” out for a ride on Oregon’s back roads.

Pulling on to the state highway, I want to go a few more miles before turning back to the house. Light traffic gave me an open passing lane so I dropped it into a lower gear and moved to the left. With appropriate signals of course. Accelerate, shift to fourth. Wind up to the speed limit and shift to fifth for the cruise…and NOTHING.

The gearshift came loose in my hand. It flopped from side-to-side. The engine was running and the clutch seemed fine. No warning lights of any kind. But no gears.

Looking over my shoulder to the right, I saw the line of cars I had been in the process of passing. No chance of moving safely in that direction and the car was slowing down fast. Miraculously, the narrow median to my left produced a wide spot just long enough for me to pull safely out of the traffic and stop.

Skip ahead a few days and a few hundred dollars: The bolt that linked the gearshift to the transmission had come loose. It was truly one weak link that compromised the integrity of the entire system.

Integrity. A quality we all aspire to. A quality we demand in our leaders. Absolutely essential if we are to create a culture of trust. In Leadership: Theory and Practice, Peter G. Northouse listed integrity as one of the required traits of a leader. He defined integrity as “the quality of honesty and trustworthiness,” and said, “integrity makes a leader believable and worthy of our trust.” Without integrity, there is no trust.

Integrity has a spiritual dimension. Andre L. Delbecq in Nourishing the Soul of the Leader pointed out that, “the majority of leaders in corporate America today believe that inner spiritual growth matters.” An essential ingredient to spiritual growth: “Acting with integrity to a clear code of values.”

What is your standard of integrity? It’s an important question to answer when you’re establishing a culture of trust.

I wrote about this in my last post. Leaders are standard-bearers who establish the basic tenets of integrity throughout their organizations. They must clearly communicate four key values and expectations: truthfulness, honesty, respectfulness, and positivity.

  1. Truthfulness – Speaking the truth is challenging in toxic environments where messengers get shot. It may be tempting to ignore reality and tell people what they want to hear, noted management consultant Jim Dougherty in The Best Way for New Leaders to Build Trust (Harvard Business Review, December 13, 2013). Leaders must nonetheless deliver bad news when it’s warranted—and demand honorable behavior from those who receive it.

People sense less risk when an organization’s culture respects those who tell the truth, even when it hurts. When leaders address mistakes constructively and avoid embarrassing their staff, there’s no need to lie or stretch the truth. The penalty for lying must outweigh that for making errors. Enforce this mindset in your culture so truthful coworkers earn others’ trust.

  1. Honesty – When employees treat each other honestly (do the right thing), trust grows over time. Dishonesty must be met with consequences. If you deal with it firmly, even for subtle infractions, your culture of integrity strengthens and people trust each other more.
  2. Respectfulness – Respect is one of those fundamental benefits that all of us expect to be granted, but seldom are. A culture of respect and honor fosters high levels of trust among coworkers. Again, a leader’s behavior sets the stage for success. Respectfulness includes basic social considerations like accepting people and listening to their opinions and ideas.

In my next post, I’ll explore the fourth value and expectation: positivity. In the meantime, what do you think? What are your standards for truth, honesty, and respect? Would your co-workers agree? Send me an email: I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

Until next time, I’ll be in the garage warming up the Mustang.


David McNamee, Ph.D.
David McNamee, Ph.D.
David McNamee, Ph.D. is an author, master educator, and leadership expert with documented success in public, private, domestic, and international sectors. David is a Professor of Leadership at the University of Arkansas Grantham, International Faculty at Jesuit Worldwide Learning, and a member of the Board of Directors at the Rotary Fellowship of Leadership Education and Development. With his son, he is co-author of "Servant Leadership Lessons for Middle School" available on Amazon.

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