“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th president of the United States
My fellow AEs and CEOs regularly share stories about members and leaders who work within their association for personal gain rather than on behalf of the organization. Facing these situations can leave us feeling battered and torn, and it can be hard to stay focused and on course. Couple this with so much in the news about out national leaders and public figures taking shortcuts and exhibiting anything but a strong moral compass, and staying the course of integrity can feel like a losing battle. It doesn’t have to be.
Through my own experiences and those of my colleagues, I realize how certain moments can be challenging—and how facing them with strong integrity is empowering and rewarding.
A fellow CEO recently shared a story about a member who attempted to bully her way into a leadership academy facilitator position by using her seat on the selection committee to promote herself. “Politically speaking, we could have turned a blind eye and not ruffled a lot of feathers,” my fellow CEO said. “We could have simply ignored this obvious breach of fiduciary duty in order to avoid hard feelings. But as staff, we chose the high road and stuck to our guns. But it’s never fun being ‘the bad guy.’ It’s not a place we want to be, but we have to stand up for what’s right.”
We, as AEs, face these situations every day. These are the moments when your indisputable integrity comes through. Those questionable characters may not like it, but leaders and members will respect you more for it. It may feel daunting, but it is up to us to demonstrate professionalism and help raise the bar within our organizations.
More than what integrity signals to our leadership and members, I challenge that it means more to our staff than anyone else. This helps them understand that you won’t waver when it comes to the hard stuff. We all know a professional, whether it’s a colleague or someone on our leadership team, who is inconsistent in the way he or she approaches certain situations. It’s hard to know where you stand when someone bends with the wind.
A colleague from Texas shared: “Before being named AE of my organization, I was a staff member in our professional development department. My predecessor and previous boss had a reputation of being unpredictable. When it came to fines under the MLS, my boss would often waive them depending on who the member was. Staff members didn’t know what to expect day to day and it was apparent that not all rules applied equally. I’ve made it a distinct point to treat every situation the same, no matter what. I feel that staff members are more comfortable approaching me about situations with members. Through my approach, I feel I have won their trust. This has changed the personality of our organization and the experience members are having, as well. Members and staff alike have noted the difference, and that feels good.”
These situations happen at all levels and at all sizes of organization, but it may be more difficult for newer AEs or for those at smaller associations. Yet showing daily that we hold integrity, consistency, and fairness in high regard is crucial. If enough staff, leaders, and members see your integrity and trust it, then they will start to practice it.
Great leaders do the right thing, even when no one is watching. When we are true and authentic to what is important to us and what our moral compass says, then we are always in the right.