I was asked the other day what is the most important challenge facing leaders in the 21st century. It is integrity.

Without a doubt, the two most disheartening developments in the modern era of leadership in America are:

  1. The lack of focus on integrity. The willingness of too many Boards of Directors and senior leaders to pursue personal and self-serving interests instead of adhering to the mission and stated values and focusing on best serving customers and supporting employees.

  2. The absence of accountability. Too many organizations lack the necessary internal and external checks and balances needed to protect the integrity of the enterprise and the trust that customers and employees place in it. This creates the conditions for predictable scandal and once trust is gone, it’s gone.

Both go together and when combined, they destroy trust and demolish organizations.

These are not new problems in human history. The frequency of ethical scandals has increased in recent decades. The prevalence of declining standards is well documented. In some ways, it’s become the New Normal. What should be unthinkable and unacceptable has now become much more common.

We spend a lot of time and energy teaching the strategies successful leaders utilize and the best practices they should employ and we should.

As we approach 2022, my counsel to everyone in leadership or teaching or studying it is this: concentrate on the need for integrity and accountability.

I heard a highly respected CEO say it at an employee meeting last month: it’s all about character. Recruit, hire, train, supervise, evaluate, promote, retain, and terminate based upon character. Ensure a culture of ethical responsibility. Because human beings are poor judges of our own conflicts of interest, have all the right formal and informal checks and balances in place.

Trust is the most precious asset any leader, organization, professional, and customer can have. Protect it at all costs.

Joseph C. Saviak, Ph.D., J.D., M.A., M.S.

Management Consulting & Leadership Training