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The ROI that today’s leaders need most

Integrity is the foundation of sound organizations that know what they are and what they value.

5 min read



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Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today’s post is by Shelly L. Francis.


How do you decide what factors to align and to risk for gaining the highest return on investment? How often do you factor in the return on integrity?

When there is consistency between what people say and do, we call that integrity. We say they “walk their talk” or “keep their word.” We sense integrity when a person’s work appears to be guided by a deeper moral-ethical commitment. Integrity is not only the opposite of the immoral and unethical behavior so often reported in the news.

The best ROI comes from aligning who you are on the inside — your values and fears, your hopes and your limits — with your outer life of work and relationships. When you risk showing up as your whole self, engagement can shift and so can success.

A social entrepreneur named Ed was burned out after too many years on a nightmarish treadmill of chasing goals, working all hours, believing that if anything good were to happen he had to do it himself. For six years, basic self-care just didn’t happen. When Ed finally made time to reconnect with his underlying purpose and values, he began to see himself differently as a leader.

“The choice to stop and invest in reflecting is not logical when you’re in the middle of the intensity of doing all these things. But reflection time is extremely valuable in every way. It creates a space for emotional intelligence.”

If leaders don’t find clarity about what they value, what unique gifts they have to offer, what contribution they wish to make, they cannot realize their full potential. Strength and resilience as a leader come from knowing the ground on which you stand, the convictions you will act on with courage. Resilience comes from being aware of and accepting your limits and what problems your shadows are causing. That is wholeness, and that comes from knowing your true self.

Organizations are often blamed for problems without anyone acknowledging that policies, decisions, systems and corporate cultures are products of the people inside. Being willing to tackle hard conversations within an organization, to make room for honest debate and differing opinions, is an act of courage that requires and invites integrity.

“I used to joke that I was the head custodian, because that’s my style,” said Ed. “Now I really see my role as being the person to hold the vision. Before in the exact same situation, the main complaint I had was that people were not coming together around the vision. Now people are coming together a whole lot more … “It’s how I hold myself, what I express, what I show that expresses the vision. I think that’s how the world really works. How we live is the vision.”

In a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, too many people are stuck in unhealthy modes: fight or flight, freeze or flock. But for each stress reaction, an option exists: Fortify. When you make time to fortify yourself — mind, body and spirit — you gain the courage to respond with integrity instead of react from defaults, bias, and unexamined assumptions.

Integrity requires us to stretch and be stronger than normal. Integrity demands an extra measure of responsibility and resolve to do the right thing. Integrity is refusing to participate in unfair business practices. Resisting pressure to meet quotas that cause harm. Relinquishing a sale or a competition for the sake of winning long-term loyalty. Retracting misinformation. Reiterating to ensure your voice is heard.

How do you fortify yourself so that you have the courage to act with integrity? Anything you do to regain your strength and composure, your clarity about who you are deep down inside, is a form of fortification.

Doing meaningful work that reflects who you are gives you energy to work through hard times. Community fortifies you with kind support and the compassionate challenge of others. What inspires you, infuses you, instills you with the spirit of courage?

“When we find that courage,” writes author and educator Parker J. Palmer, “our lives become more whole, our work reaches deeper, the people we serve are better served, and, in ways large and small, the world becomes a better place.”


Shelly L. Francis wrote “The Courage Way: Leading and Living With Integrity” on behalf of the Center for Courage & Renewal, a nonprofit founded 25 years ago by Parker J. Palmer that offers programs and practices for cultivating courage, integrity, and trust. Visit

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