The Integrity Tripod

Through my years of working in industry and now being a part of academia I have experienced and observed good leadership and poor leadership. I have experienced inclusive leaders who were able to get the team to understand and share in a vision. I have experienced bully’s that push their way around forcing the scare peg of their vision into a round hole. Inclusive leaders are much more fun and rewarding.

Because of my desire to be a leader, as well as help my students become leaders, I read a lot of books dealing with leadership. I am always looking for titles to purchase and read. A while back my son told me about a book entitled, Geeks and Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders. This book was written by one of my favorite writers Warren Bennis, and a gentleman names Robert Thomas. What I like about this book is the practical nature of their comments.

In the chapter titled The Alchemy of Leadership Bennis and Thomas describe what  they call the Integrity Tripod. I think all of us would agree that integrity is an incredibly important characteristic of god leadership. The authors break this term into three components, ambition, competence, and moral compass. The integrity tripod represents these elements and the importance of keeping them in balance.

Leaders become leaders because they have the desire to accomplish something. These individuals are ambitious and seek power. Leaders that are seeking personal power focus on their own ambitions, while those leaders that are seeking social power search for ways of creating shared meaning and ultimately the good of the group.

The second leg of the tripod is competence. This includes personal mastery of specific skills and expertise. This is more than understanding finances, or even the technical nature of the business. This skill includes being able to create new mental models and share visions that everyone can take ownership of and create change.

The third leg involves a moral compass. Bennis and Thomas define this as, “compris[ing] virtues that acknowledge the individual’s membership in the larger human community as well as the capacity to distinguish between good and evil.” Those leaders that are able to maintain their moral compass have long and fulfilling careers, while those that fail are destined to be judged by history.

The historian Arthur Schlesinger identified six world leaders who shaped the direction of the 20th century. These six individuals were Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Mao Tse-Tung. “All certainly had clear, resonant, and strong voices. However, we know that Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were responsible for the annihilation of up to 120 million human beings. Their actions demonstrate an inherent evil that is opposed to integrity. After reading this section of the book I began wondering who are the individuals shaping the 21st century? I also think that there are levels of influence, such as social movements, corporate movements, etc.

At the corporate level one person that I think is influencing an industry is Alan Mulally. He has recently won many CEO awards, but the question is what makes him successful. In this week’s Business Week Mulally is interviewed and he discusses some of the things I mentioned above.

The first question he was asked is what makes a great CEO? Mulally identifies the ability to rally everyone around a compelling shared vision. The leadership at Ford has a comprehensive strategy that they feel will ensure their success. However, according to Mulally their is a pragmatic side to the shared vision which means great cost control. He sees the Ford/UAW relationship as a partnership. Through this partnership they have created a wage and compensation package that  can compete with the rest of the world.

One positive characteristic, in my opinion, of Mulally’s leadership at Ford is the fact that the company did not take any bailout money from the government. Also, Ford did not file for bankruptcy like GM and Chrysler. Experts say that was problematic for Ford because they maintained a $23.5 Billion debt load borrowed in 2006, while GM and Chrysler were able to remove the pressure of their debt. Mulally stated in the interview that over the last year and a half they have paid back almost all of that loan. They were cost disadvantaged, now they are not.

So kudos to good leaders. I wish we had more examples of leaders that are ambitious in a good way, competent, and possess a strong moral compass. Leaders that can create a vision that we can all buy into and take ownership of.

And that is my thought for the day!


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