Innovation in Business: The Role of Integrity

Innovation in Business: The Role of Integrity

It is no secret that leadership is increasingly difficult in today’s constantly evolving world. To be successful, it is critical for leaders to be open to new ideas, willing to take risks and even be willing to fail. Some leaders, though, take shortcuts when trying to be innovative to stay ahead of their competition as evidenced by the large number of scandals we continue to see in all avenues of life. This begs the question of whether innovation and integrity can co-exist.

The numerous definitions of “integrity” include words such as morals, honesty, ethics, values, truthfulness, dependability, loyalty,
respect, trustworthy, reliable and doing the right thing even when no one is watching. Those with high levels of integrity are willing to hold themselves accountable and take responsibility for their actions. We all care about our reputations and know that while they take a lifetime to build, they can potentially be destroyed with one bad decision in a matter of minutes.

None of us has all the answers or perfect ideas. As we seek to innovate, we need to be open to perspectives from those around us who might have more knowledge, more experience, or just a unique idea we have never considered. This might be difficult for those with a low propensity to trust who are “wired” not to trust anyone until they feel someone has earned that level of trust. However, if we have integrity and show that we trust those around us, those people will come to trust that we will make the right decisions for them as well.

In terms of taking risks, one of the dimensions of my favorite leadership style, transformational leadership, is that of intellectual stimulation, which occurs when leaders trust their staff enough to give them the ability to challenge the status quo and question why things are done a certain way. Not all leaders are comfortable taking this risk, but the biggest impact from this dimension is that it leads to more creativity, which leads to more innovation, which leads to more continuous improvement – all things that can reflect integrity and very positively impact a company’s financial bottom line.

As for failure, one of my favorite videos, which I show in my Leadership Skills class, shows how several very successful people (such as Michael Jordan, Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Edison) all suffered epic failure in their lives. The video concludes with the quote, “if you haven’t failed, you haven’t lived.” It’s okay to fail and we ALL make mistakes… lots of them, unfortunately… but that is what gives us the opportunity to learn, demonstrate resilience, and bounce back even better.

Is leadership easy? Is innovation easy? Is integrity easy? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding “no” to all three of those questions. However, combining innovation with integrity will lead to more passion as we strive to be the leaders we want to become. We can all do better and be better. The choice is yours.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by the University of Northern Iowa.