An important principle to lead by.

Leadership means a lot of things to a lot of people. In fact, there’s so much to say about leadership that a search for the word on Amazon yields over 81,000 results.

These offerings often reveal great knowledge about leadership. They emphasize important qualities. They reflect upon alternative styles. They espouse universal laws. It’s all very compelling – I know because I’ve been a student of the topic for many years.

The key virtue of leadership.

But of all of the attributes associated with great leadership, there’s one that stands far and above the rest. Without it, leaders are forever suspect and are virtually unable to apply any of the other worthy principles. It’s so important that leaders who don’t have it can easily disqualify themselves from the role.

The attribute? Integrity.

Integrity means basic honesty, good values, and unyielding ethic. It’s the basis of sound character. Trust is built upon it, and without it leaders cannot lead. It’s the strength and willingness to be direct and forthright with others. It’s a personal and on-going decision to stand firm on principles that are inherently good. Truly possessing integrity takes fundamental commitment and resolve. And it’s the very foundation upon which leadership is built.

Lead by example (or don’t lead at all).

When you compromise here and there in terms of values, morals, and ethics, you run the risk of losing the respect of those who follow you. People inside the organization will withhold trust and replicate what they see. Potential partners and clients will avoid strong alliances and question doing business with leaders and organizations they do not trust.

Leaders influence policy, reflect values, and provide a model for others. People rarely rise above the leader’s morality and ethics. Excellent leaders realize it’s their responsibility to ensure that their values and beliefs are put into practice within the organization.

Many leaders maintain integrity because they know it’s the right thing. But at the same time, power and influence tend to make leaders feel invincible – and that they’re accountable to no one. Enduring leadership requires that power does not corrupt.

Society needs role models. It’s how each generation learns how to behave. If we don’t provide an example others should follow, we should voluntarily resign our roles as leaders.

I challenge all of us to be role models. Be an example for future generations to emulate by making integrity a part of your own personal brand. It’s the foundation of great leadership and the soul of successful business.