Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.
Why are physician leaders hesitant to do this?
Every leader admits that building and maintaining an organizational culture of integrity is essential in theory, but the emotional price is steep. You have to tell the truth. You have to take the same position publicly and privately. You have to do what you say you will do and admit it when you are wrong. It is much easier to tell people what they want to hear, to enter into secret agreements and to avoid speaking on the record. It is easier to blame others. It is easier to hold your cards close to the vest. It is easier to cut secret deals while reassuring yourself that’s what everyone does. Every leader aspires to be a person of integrity. Not every leader is willing to pay the painful price on which that reputation is built.
What is the case for doing it anyway?
The people you serve will figure out pretty quickly whether you are a person of integrity or not. If they conclude you are not, you are finished as an effective leader. You may hold on to your leadership title for a time, but no one will take you seriously. You will not be a player. Few of us intentionally aspire to be empty suits, but there are more than a few of those around. Is that the way you want your professional life to turn out?
How can you do it?
1. Choose the reputation you want to build. Look around. There are real life examples of reputable and disreputable leaders in your own work environment. You know who they are. Choose your role models carefully. You will likely turn out to be the kind of leader you look up to.
2. Make a list. Do some practical research on integrity. Write down how leaders with integrity behave. Be specific and detailed. Post your list of requisite behaviors so you will see it every day.
3. Listen critically to all sides before taking a position. The urge to jump to accommodating conclusions when powerful complainers come calling is strong. Resist it.
4. Beware the secrecy trap. When people ask you to hold something they are about to say in confidence, stop them right there. Make it clear that you cannot agree to confidentiality beforehand. Actually, nothing a leader says or does is secret for long.
5. Do the right thing. You will usually know right away what the right thing is. It’s the hard option that you would rather avoid.
What exactly do you do to build and sustain a culture of integrity?