Management & leadership

Charity leaders: Is your integrity intact?

Our sector is increasingly being called upon to prove its integrity.

Ask anyone ‘Do you have integrity?’ and you will be hard pressed to find someone who says no.

We all think we have integrity. When asked what my values are, what’s important to me, integrity is right up there on the list. As I scream ‘Where is your integrity?’ at the Question Time panel, football managers, Hollywood millionaire celebrities selling me perfume (Oh Mr Depp, what have you become?) I am secure in the knowledge that my integrity is intact.

So, when I was asked to deliver Integrity in Leadership for Charityfair 2017 I gladly accepted. There are so many examples I can give on who lapsed when and how – politicians, CEO’s, organisations. ‘Look at all these bad examples’ I would say. ‘Don’t be like this’ I would advocate. ‘To thine own self be true’ I would espouse. Cue screeching halt and self-check. Cathy, are you going to do a workshop on Integrity in Leadership and preach? Where is your integrity?

Despite being a lapsed Catholic I am still in the habit of a confession, so here goes?

A Confession

My first charity sector management job required me to take a promotion and then start the redundancy process for the rest of the team. It didn’t feel right but the organisation could not have survived without some sort of cut back. Ignoring the ball of discontent in my stomach, I put my feelings down to ‘it’s always a nasty business redundancy’ and ploughed on.

My self-talk justified and rationalised the whole thing – best interests of beneficiaries, short term pain long term gain, someone has to be tough and do the tough thing. It was a nasty business and we got through it but what I remember most about all of it was that it didn’t feel right. I didn’t work all this out at the time (22 and the naïve messenger sent out to be shot) but I now know it didn’t feel right because I’d always said how important teamwork was, that the collective was more important than the individual and that you don’t ‘rat out’ for your own gain. I cut across my own integrity. More importantly, I was now not to be trusted by those who remained and my first 2 years in that role were hellish.

We all, at some time, are found wanting on the question of integrity. Sometimes we are pulled between two options – do I support MacMillan from whom I had much love and care but who chose The Sun newspaper as their ad agency of choice to recruit new supporters (The Sun – I am from Liverpool!)

So, when we are asked ‘Do you have integrity?’ we say yes. Caution though, if you get that ball of discontent in your stomach, a confusion of feelings and your inner talk has its righteous voice on, you are probably wavering.

Can you learn to have integrity?

My favourite quote on it is ‘Integrity is doing the right thing even when no-one is watching’(anon). The key is doing. That’s behaviour, choice, action and so on. Our sector is increasingly being called upon to prove its integrity so if we want people to give, they need to trust and if they are to trust, we must be trustworthy. This is true of organisations and of individual leaders in our sector. So, there has never been a better time to learn.

Join me and my sector colleague Jacky Bourke-White, CEO Age UK Lewisham, at our Charityfair workshop to learn what we mean by integrity, how we and others know it when we see it and to hear some thought provoking examples – we promise we won’t preach.

Learn more about integrity in leadership at this years Charityfair