Leaders can inspire a culture of integrity in any organization, but what is more effective, words or actions?
As we continue this special series of podcasts, Ray Zinn provides his thoughts on the difference between projecting an attitude of integrity in words and proving integrity through actions. Which priority is essential for the truly successful leader.
Rob Artigo: Welcome to Episode Nine in Ray Zinn’s Tough Things First podcast series on essential leadership. I am your guest host, Rob Artigo. I’m a writer and entrepreneur in California. Hello, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hey, Rob. You’re sounding good today, buddy.
Rob Artigo: Thanks. I just feel like we’re getting close to the end, and I’m not looking forward to really closing this out. I just am enjoying the conversations about leadership here in this series.
Ray Zinn: Well, thank you.
Rob Artigo: We have eight terrific episodes behind us, now onto number nine, and this is leaders. You’ve said leaders of integrity inspire confidence and admiration through their actions, not just their words. Also you’ve said many leaders claim that integrity is important to them, but good leaders put their actions where their name is bad. What do you mean by that?
Ray Zinn: You are who you portray yourself to be, and so when we talk about ethics or integrity, it comes from the heart. It’s doing what’s right when no one’s watching, so it has to be kind of a basic part of who you are as a person, and your language, the kind of words you use, whether you use vulgar language or whether you use clean language, how you communicate, when you communicate, that all goes into who you are as an individual.
From doing the right things in the right way, to considering how you dress and represent yourself and your company, the characteristics of essential leadership stand the test of time.
In this special series of podcasts, Ray Zinn provides the finer points for leadership and leadership qualities and how to develop them.
Our words will either sustain us or defame us, and so we have to walk the talk. Your integrity is shown in who you are as an individual, and when they say well, this guy has integrity, it’s because he’s honest to a fault and I don’t know if you can use the word totally honest because you’re either honest or you’re not, but you know, totally kind of adds, it’s an adjective that can be thrown in front of it, being honest to a fault. Other words, even if it hurts, telling the truth even if it hurts, or admitting you made a mistake even when it hurts.
Hurt is part of making mistakes, but also it’s admitting it and then dealing with it as part of having integrity, and so the great leaders, the great people that I’ve known throughout my life that have been great leaders are the ones who are most quick to admit they made a mistake rather than try to cover it up, to try to alibi out of it, to try to blame it on somebody else. They hit it head on. They just say hey, I made a mistake. I apologize and here’s what I’m going to do to solve it. That’s the key to walking the talk or being a person of integrity is that you’re the quickest to admit when you make a mistake.
We all make mistakes. That’s not the problem. It’s when we don’t try to admit it, we don’t take responsibility and then deal with it. That’s what it means to lack integrity. I’m going to say this, even though there may be a perception that you did something wrong, maybe it wasn’t really wrong but maybe there’s a perception out there, you’ve led somebody to believe you did something wrong, that’s still a mistake. That perception is reality, and so you don’t want that perception to take a life of its own, so even though you may not have done something wrong in all regard, if that perception is out there you did something wrong, you need to straighten it out because again, perception is reality, Rob.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, I remember an experience I had back in my military days, and I was very concerned about something that was happening in the culture of our military unit. I brought this up to somebody and I said if there is a perception of something going on, then there’s something going on, and I couldn’t communicate this to this person the right way. I think they thought I meant that whatever the rumor was or whatever was happening was fact because there was a rumor. What I was saying was there’s a problem because this rumor exists. We’ve got to figure out what’s causing that problem, and it was hard for me to explain that, but I’m hearing that from you out of these circumstances.
Ray Zinn: Well, you know again, perception becomes reality, and so even though you might have, let’s say for example that you had to go pick up your car and you used your secretary to drive you there, and so somebody saw you in the car with your secretary, maybe heading down just a street. Maybe it was a street that had a bunch of bars in it or something, and so they got the perception that you were doing something illicit, like you were cheating on your wife or something, so that becomes a perception. That’s not reality in the sense of the word. That’s not what you did, but that situation came up, so now you’re dealing with a problem. You’re just saying well, now how do I handle this? How do I get rid of this perception? Well, number one, you try to avoid that by not having your secretary drive you to pick up your car. You try to avoid that, or taking your secretary to lunch or whatever. You try to avoid those situations where perception can take a life of its own, but when it does happen, you have to find a way to change that view. Whether you meant it to happen the way it did or not, that perception is what sticks in the minds of people and so it’s difficult. First thing is try to avoid that perception in any way you can, and then the second thing is if it does happen is to try to get the train back on the track again.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, and it could be something as simple as having worked with somebody so long that you’re more familiar with them and closer to them, and when other people, new people perhaps, are coming in to the workplace and seeing a more comfortable, familiar relationship between you and an employee, it doesn’t have to be your secretary. It could be just about any co-worker, and their perception is oh, something’s going on there, and it’s sad that people would start to assume that and then hold it against you, but really it starts with your behavior. It starts with your behavior.
Ray Zinn: If it’s not part of your character, it’s easier to challenge that perception, but if it is part of your character to do things which are a little bit on the side, as you would, if you’re having difficulty in your marriage or whatever, and so if that’s reality, meaning you are having difficulty, that perception takes a life of its own because people say oh, I can believe that because look at this and this and this. Again, the first thing to do is to avoid the perception in any way that you can. The second thing is, of course, if that perception does take a life of its own, you have to have people that say that’s not who he is, that can’t be right, because he’s not that way. You want to keep your character clean so that people say well, that’s just a perception. That’s not reality because that’s not the way he is or she is as a person.
Rob Artigo: Based on what we’ve discussed so far in this podcast, is it actions or words that come first?
Ray Zinn: Well, words precede the action, and so you got to make sure that you walk the talk. In other words, whatever comes out of your mouth that that’s the way you are as a person, and so if you want to be perceived as an ethical, honest person with high integrity, you have to walk that talk. In other words, you have to become part of your life, whether you’re at home or you’re at work or you’re at play, as you would. Again, who you are, your demeanor as a person really impacts how people are going to believe and perceive you as an individual.
Rob Artigo: We used to say that it made a big difference when the cameras were on. People would act a different way than they did when the cameras were off or behind closed doors.
Ray Zinn: Yeah.
Rob Artigo: It’s foolishness to think that people don’t see that when you behave that way. It doesn’t matter, like you said, when you are behaving in one manner one way, and behind closed doors you’re behaving in another manner, people will call you out on that. You have to be able to do the right thing when people aren’t looking.
Ray Zinn: Well, you know, I had a situation come up when we were being sued by an individual for wrongful termination, and one of my staff, my executives, was testifying in a deposition. The attorney, at the very end of the deposition, said well, the deposition’s over, but now off the record, do you think you owe this employee something? My executive says yes, off the record, and my attorney called me afterwards and said write a check, you’re done. I said what happened? He says your executive just said yeah, that off the record he thought you owed him something. There’s no such a thing as off the record, okay? There’s no such a thing as a closed mic. There’s no such a thing as a closed camera. When I started this podcast I said that integrity is doing what’s right when no one’s watching. Always assume, and this is something that Alec Baldwin should have learned, always assume the gun is loaded or always assume the mic is on. Always assume the camera’s rolling. Don’t assume it’s off the record. Don’t assume that no one’s watching.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, and that’s something you learn early on. My whole career in broadcasting, I said, it was when I was a little bit more salty tongued and younger, and brash and not disciplined, but I was recording something from the field and I used a bad word in the recording, and the person back at the station who was editing it together didn’t catch that I was starting again and a nasty word went out over the air in a recording, and I thought my career was over. I mean, it wasn’t the worst of words, but it was definitely unprofessional. It didn’t reflect well on me, and I never did that again.
Ray Zinn: Always assume the mic is open. Always assume the camera’s rolling. You always have to assume that.
Rob Artigo: All right. Well, I hate to say this but our next episode’s episode 10.
Ray Zinn: Oh, the last one.
Rob Artigo: Yeah. I don’t know if you’re going to be disappointed.
Ray Zinn: I will be. I love this.
Rob Artigo: All right. We’ve been discussing essential leadership here on the special edition of the Tough Things First podcast. You can reach out to Ray Zinn with your questions at toughthingsfirst.com. You’re invited. Go there. Check it out. You’ll find more podcasts, you’ll see the blogs. You’ll see links to information about Ray’s books, Tough Things First, The Zen of Zinn, and The Zen of Zinn 2, and eventually you’re going to see The Zen of Zinn 3. Get ready for that. Please go to your favorite podcast source. I bet it’s likely the one that you’re listening to right now. Give your rating to help us spread the word about the Tough Things First podcast and of course the books. I look forward to closing out this series, Essential Leadership, with you, Ray. We’ll see you.
Ray Zinn: Thanks a lot, Rob. Appreciate this podcast.