The Conscience of a Leader

Inside each of us lies an invisible divine compass called the conscience. God buried this compass somewhere in each of our guts to help us tell the difference between right and wrong, help us find an honest path in life. It’s a good thing to have this compass, because logic and reason are not always sufficient resources for choosing the righteous road. In fact sometimes a person can reason themselves into following the exact opposite path that the conscience points to, leading to the gut wrenching question, “How did I get into this mess?”

But is the conscience a useful mechanism for business leaders? No one ever talks about the conscience in business school or around the work place.  As a manager, I have been trained to make sound decisions based on “facts” not gut “feelings”. In business school I was taught to discount cash flows and follow Porter’s Five Forces, not to do what I feel is right. But what is the manager to do when the facts point in direction and the gut points in the other?

One quality I have heard discussed ad nauseam is integrity. It is discussed in all the popular books about leadership and management that I’ve come across. Apparently, it is quite important to have integrity as a business manager. What is integrity? I’ve heard speakers and trainers describe integrity as “doing what you say you’re going to do,” or, “integrity is what you do when no one is looking.” Boy, that sounds really easy. But if you ask me, these annoying cliques just dilute the meaning of the word. When presented in this nonchalant form it seems to me that everyone must be brimming with integrity, and if you’re not, maybe you can just pick up a six-pack of integrity from the gas station on your way home.

Integrity really means acting with honesty and strong moral principles, and integrity really is important for a leader. When a leader acts with integrity his team members learn to trust and have confidence in his decisions. High levels of trust, confidence and cohesion lead  to improved performance, better business results, and ultimately lead to everyone becoming a better version of themselves. And this is very the goal of leadership, the end. Helping people become a better version of themselves.

Being a man of integrity requires more than the clichés suggest. Achieving actions of honesty and strong moral principles can only be done by following your conscience. Facts and numbers lie, but your gut does not. The compass points always points North. In fact, if I was going to hold a training class on how to achieve integrity in order to be a better leader, I would tell everyone, “Just follow your conscience; meeting adjourned.”

This is the secret to great authentic leadership. Just follow your conscience.