Make Integrity the Cornerstone of Your Leadership

Do you value integrity more than anything else in your personal leadership?


One of the most important elements of leadership is personal integrity. In this segment, General Hugh Shelton talks about this cornerstone of leadership and the effects that it will have on your team.

So let's start with the leader, you and I, as leaders. Hopefully in each one of you today, the thing that you find nearest and dearest to your heart is your integrity because I believe that that is the cornerstone upon which all other leadership skills are built. And that when I talk about integrity, I'm talking about honesty, forthrightness. I'm talking about the soundness of your moral principles. I'm talking about things that you would never, ever want to compromise, because if you do and the people that you lead know that you don't have that integrity, then you're not much of a leader and you're certainly not what they'd consider to be a good person. If you don't have integrity, then you don't have anything to build on. You build on a castle on sand, so to speak.

The leader also is one that sets the example. We lead from the front. If I put a piece of rope on the table and I try to push it off, I have trouble doing it. If I pull it from the front, it goes very easily. It follows me. The same way with the way we lead individuals. Now these individuals that we lead, they watch us. They watch us very carefully. They watch our work ethic. They watch our moral and ethical standards. They watch the way that we do business. They look at our integrity and our efforts. And so they're watching.

You know, I saw that many, many times in my career, and I've seen it many times in the corporate world since leaving the military. But the one example I remember very well that shows just how much they're watching, if you're leading two people you've got two people watching you. If you're leading 3.2 million people, as I was as a chairman, you've got lots of people watching you. Well I happen to be in special operations command as my first four-star assignment, and I'd been working very hard all day long, getting "Death by PowerPoint" as I call it. Briefings all day long. And it's finally about 6:30 or 7 in the afternoon or evening and I say I can't take anymore. I'm going home.

So I take these two catalog briefcases filled with slides and presentations that I've got to watch the next day, and I start out of the building toward home, figuring I could read those and speed the process a little bit the next day. But as I walk out of the building, in Tampa, if you've ever been to Tampa, you know they have some terrific lightning and thunderstorms. Well they're having one of these, it's what the locals refer to as a frog-choker, you know its lots of water and it's coming down.

So as I walk out of the building, my driver, a young army ranger sergeant has pulled the vehicle up under the overhang. He hops out, opens the door, salutes me sharply, and stands there waiting for me to get in. I walked up to him and I said, "Pete, you know, Department of Defense regulations preclude taking a government vehicle from home to work or vice versa. So I'll be walking." And with that, I stepped off into the rain, carrying my two briefcases. Now the young sergeant is standing there looking, and I know what he's thinking, "There goes the dumbest general in the history of the army." I know that's what was on his mind.

But, the next day I go back to work and about 10 in the morning the phone rings. My executive assistant runs in and says, "You've got Admiral Smith on the line, Senior Navy Seal out in Coronado, California. He wants to talk to you." So I stopped the briefing, I go out, and I pick up the phone. Before I can say a word, or before he says anything, he blurts out, "General, I understand you walked home in the rain last night, you didn't take the sedan." And I said "That's right Ray, I didn't take the sedan because that's against DoD regulations."

Already the word had spread to the West Coast that the general had made a decision of doing the right thing, not the wrong thing. I've often wondered what message that would've sent had I hopped in the sedan. Maybe nothing, but maybe "It's all going to be OK, the General, he cuts corners as well." So you set the example, and you know, they watch you. General John Wickham, former chief of staff of the army, put it best. He said "The higher up the flagpole you climb, the more of your butt that shows."

General Hugh Shelton

One of the leading military figures of our time, General Hugh Shelton served two terms as the 14th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Shelton was the chief architect of the military...

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