Roger Delves, a director at Britain’s Ashridge Business School, lectures in management studies. Among the topics he addresses is leadership integrity. Mr Delves visited Abu Dhabi last week to complete a project for a government agency. He has consulted for public and private sector clients, including Abu Dhabi’s Department of Civil Service and the energy giant Shell in the Middle East.
How do you define integrity?
It is knowing what is right, doing what is right because you know what is right. In the world away from business, often the challenges of what is right and not right are more straightforward. The business world is more ambiguous and complex. In the business world it is not that people do not know what is right. The challenge is doing what is right, because the temptation of doing what is not right is often more profitable for them. The challenge for businesspeople is not defining or understanding what is right, but having the integrity to do what is right.
Do ethical handbooks and ethical departments help at corporations?
The standard is variable. There are some very good ones which help people understand the underlying concept such as the role of authenticity, the role of values and principles in integrity. In our modern world, they are generally poorly understood. What happens is that how they are understood differs in different parts of the world. In some parts of the world, people have a clear sense of values, but understand principles less well. In other parts of the world, the reverse is true.
So it varies with culture?
It does vary from area to area. So in this part of the world, people are much more likely to be brought up with a strong understanding of what is honourable. That is less the case in western Europe. In this part of the world, the concepts like ethics, values, principles are much more common than it is in western Europe. That changes the nature of the education of young people.
How can a leader here deal with this challenge?
The first thing for a leader to do is to model integrity themselves. And leaders must always accept that they are more carefully observed than others in their team. Whatever a leader does, the leader gives permission for others in the team to do that thing, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. If a leader acts with integrity, he tells others that they can act in that way as well. For leaders who are in the public eye, one of the great challenges is to act with as much integrity in private life as in public life. If you act with integrity in one environment, it is easier to act with integrity in other environments. So, for example, if somebody is cheating on expenses in the office, they would find it easier to file false tax returns at home.
How can leaders deal with temptations? Where can they draw the line?
The temptations that a leader faces vary enormously. Temptations can be great or small. Everybody has their own personal set of values that would help them to draw the line for themselves. .
How difficult is it to act with integrity in today’s world that emphasizes competition and success?
Today’s workplace is much more interdependent than before. You cannot function without relying on partnerships and joint ventures. Those partnerships are built on trust. If I see there is a lack of integrity, my trust in [the partners] drops sharply. Integrity is the heart of strong business. You are right that trust is in short supply because of what we reward in the workplace. In the end, business is more efficient when we work well together and collaborate. And for this to happen we need to trust. Integrity is central to trust-building.