06 October 2012

Integrity Always Matters

I had the privilege of interviewing Howard Stein and Breea Clark for "Character First the Magazine." These are their thoughts on what it takes to go beyond good intentions and establish a culture of integrity.

The Oklahoma County Courthouse,
Oklahoma City, Okla. facing Park Avenue.
Besides teaching at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center for nearly 35 years, Dr. Howard Stein has consulted with numerous organizations and written several books explaining the psychological dynamics in organizational life.

Breea Clark is associate director of academic integrity systems at the University of Oklahoma and serves as an advisor to the student chapter of the Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium.

What are a few things that you think make it particularly hard for leaders to build a culture of integrity and transparency, and why?

Stein: Organizations in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s were looking for almost magical solutions and tended to hire leaders who were generally not very self-reflective—leaders who claimed integrity but who were in fact charismatic. No potential executive says, “I’m going to come in and drive this organization into the ground.” And I’m sure they don’t believe they will.

This is where it’s important to recognize how individual psychology contributes to organizational dynamics. A charismatic leader’s grandiosity often corresponds to the employee’s needs and neediness. And they come to have a vested interest in the leader’s narrative—or way of seeing. Who doesn’t want to be part of a great organization?

So it takes a good deal of moral courage and the ability to stand alone for a person to believe what his or her eyes see, particularly when it contradicts what everyone else seems to be seeing and thinking.

Clark: With headline after headline describing scandals involving major world leaders, educational institutions, governments, and corporations, it’s hard to get young people to buy into the fact that our society actually values integrity. Just look at the example that our leaders of today are setting for our leaders of tomorrow.

When teaching students the importance of integrity both in and out of the classroom, I tell them that integrity has  always  mattered, but somehow our culture has lost sight of that. I let them know that as future leaders they can make a difference and change our culture back to one that values and rewards living and doing business with integrity.

What practices or personal habits might help leaders and their colleagues overcome these obstacles and even recognize their own blind spots?

Stein: Check or monitor  your own  emotional response. “If you smell a rat, maybe there is a rat.” Monitor your sense that something weird is going on here, and ask yourself, “What is going on here?” Start to trust yourself.

Try to reality test your perception with other people. Find people who are willing to think for themselves—coworkers who are willing to think for themselves.

Select consultants who will do the opposite of being “yes-men” or “yes-women”—who will help leaders look critically at themselves. We Americans pride ourselves on thinking for ourselves, but in many authoritarian organizations, people are punished for thinking for themselves—not just by losing their jobs but by being put out in an emotional desert.

I would try to find exceptional individuals at all levels of an organization and try to validate them, to invest in long-term relationships rather than [magical] cures, to really have the other person at heart.
Also, beware of your own neediness to respond to charismatic leaders. Recognize that charisma itself creates blind spots. Because we don’t only have blind spots, we also create them...in areas where we feel vulnerable.

Clark: As a culture, we need to be talking about integrity. Not just after the fact, post-scandal. If we don’t talk about it, people won’t know integrity actually matters, let alone why it matters. In an attempt to get the conversation started, my office gives presentations on integrity throughout the year to students, faculty and staff, and even to various administrators.

We have a student organization dedicated solely to promoting a culture on campus that values and appreciates integrity, and we host integrity-themed events on campus to increase the visibility of our organization and its mission.... Leaders of institutions, corporations, and governments need to start talking.

Could you share a time when you needed to raise an issue? What happened? How did your leaders at that time make it harder or easier?

Stein: I was in one organization—I do a lot of consulting—and I had a long-term relationship with the CEO of this organization.

I talked to a number of people, and I began to hear that this executive was often angry, perfectionistic, bullying; people felt nothing they did was ever good enough.

Fortunately, I knew this person, and I told him this was a concern of mine and a concern of a number of people. He felt remorse and began to understand some of the triggers, and things changed. That was a good organizational outcome....

Clark: The first time I raised an issue as an employee of the University of Oklahoma was when I sought to improve the academic integrity program on campus. After examining several other Big XII institutions, I learned that nearly all of them had at least one full-time staff person dedicated to not only running the academic misconduct system but promoting academic integrity on campus. At that time, the management of OU’s academic misconduct system was folded into other administrator responsibilities, but it wasn’t anyone’s sole reason for employment.

Leaders on this campus were incredibly receptive to my ideas for improving our program. In just a few years, OU has gone from playing “catch up”...to leading in several areas including student involvement in the management of our program as well as the development of remedial sanctions for those who commit academic misconduct.

This article first appeared in "Character First the Magazine." It is reprinted here with permission from Character First and Strata Leadership.

No comments:

Post a Comment