Leadership-integrity and the value-addition it brings to organisations – lessons for the development industry

Why should I bother blogging about the INTEGRITY of a leader and have you all read this blog? After all, many take it as a given and a subject, not for discussion. Simply put, it is a fact that leaders have integrity. Well, wait a moment, in the South and I suspect other parts of the world, you cannot guarantee the INTEGRITY of leaders. I will restrict myself in this particular blog, to the LEADER in the development industry, and specifically natives of the South. However, you have the freedom to apply views in this blog to other industry leaders. My last two blogs discussed the demise of the expat worker and the capacity/corruption challenge of the Southern development cadre. It is therefore not surprising that I am exploring the subject of leadership integrity this week, and the value proposition it brings to the development industry, particularly in the South.

We have to believe that it is possible!

We have to believe that it is possible!

In my opinion, Integrity or the lack of, is amongst the top threats to the success and sustainability of the current shift in development industry power-center from the North to the South. I am not even sure that there is agreement amongst development industry actors on how critical this subject is. Is the development industry paying enough attention to this scourge and the danger it causes to the good work meant to change the fortunes of the poor? After all, discussing or demanding integrity of others, depending on particular contexts in the South, can be perilous stuff. Some of you reading this blog know this, don’t you?

Anyway, let us turn our attention to a subject related to integrity, called CORRUPTION. The terms Integrity and corruption are used interchangeably, and even I, born in a corrupt country gets confused about their use and meaning. I did run to a respected online dictionary for help: Corruption: ‘moral perversion; impairment of virtue and moral principles; destroying someone’s honesty or loyalty; inducement by improper means to violate duty’; Integrity: ‘an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting’

It is apparent to me that both definitions revolve around the principle of integrity, and in effect, ‘unbroken completeness/totality with nothing wanting’. Asking the latter of us in the South, is a big ask. At an individual level, I don’t see a problem fulfilling this ask, as it is about me, and when I want something, it is within my powers to achieve it.

However, even as the personal ‘wills’, and I do want, taking integrity beyond the personal brand ‘the me’, to the rest around me or you, is no easy feat. This even gets more compounded if done in the South.

For those of you that have attained at a personal level, brand-integrity, you quickly realize that you need two conditions met, before taking integrity and the fight against corruption beyond the self. The first one is a supportive policy and institutional environment provided by the nation-state. It is extremely frustrating to catch corrupt individuals, take them to the courts of law, but are acquitted of corruption. The latter is usually a result of weak laws, institutions mired in an enduring culture of corruption, inability to investigate corruption in many cases out of a lack of skills, plus the lack of institutional-enablers and resources. As long as the corrupt know they cannot suffer serious consequences for their habit, there is no reason to stop what is a lucrative practice.

The second condition that influences the success or failure of any efforts to ensure integrity and eradicate corruption is internal organizational capacity to reinforce brand integrity and fight corruption. The development industry needs to pay attention to the latter condition, especially as power shifts to the native civil society organization. Institutional capacity has a dichotomy between the culture/willingness to fight corruption and the systems/tools to do so. An organization may have a zero-tolerance culture to corruption but lack the processes and tools to monitor, catch, and manage corruption cases. Therefore, organizations cannot eradicate corruption without investment in both the culture of brand-integrity as well as system/tools. To make matters even more complicated, the internal organization value chain may  invest in both these critical aspects, but such investment will mostly come to waste without a supportive policy and institutional environment from the nation-state.

It is apparent that organizations working in the development industry, and in the South, can only make tangible progress in achieving the required critical mass of brand-integrity if the same process happens at the nation-state level. I know some of you may be alarmed to read this, but: the South cannot have islands of brand-integrity, in massive water bodies, that are all polluted with the opposite brand. A brand, that instead works to ‘kill’ the other, moreover much more useful brand, should be eradicated.

Taking brand-integrity beyond the individual, for those so lucky to have + sustain it, is amongst the enigmas development has to resolve. Writing this blog en route my Easter break at Nakabugu village, perhaps these are matters we should leave to the Omnipotent.

So how do we deal with the above enigma?

My hypothesis is that the key driver towards a state of brand-integrity is the LEADER and that only after we achieve leadership imbued with such a brand, can we start effectively impacting the scourge of corruption. You may all agree with me that when a leader espouses ‘undivided completeness’ in his/her workings, organizations led by such leader will on the onset have a firm foundation for eradicating or significantly reducing cases of corruption. Perhaps having such leadership pedigree move to the nation-state, could result in ground-shifting progress, and some of the integrity/corruption related structural/systemic challenges we all witness at that level.

Yes, the leader with brand-integrity is not all that is required to achieve a near or perfect state of purity, but is an essential ingredient to start moving at all.

A firm integrity foundation, corruption being a subset of integrity, is realized when a leader attains a certain level of brand-integrity within an organizational value system. Mind you, we are not talking religious-purity here, but a purity that brings ‘unbroken completeness’ referenced earlier in this blog. Purity that manifests in character others can allude to and talks to brand-integrity.

HBR provides four universal moral principles that leaders shaking organizational moral-campuses espouse:

1. Integrity

2. Responsibility

3. Forgiveness

4. Compassion

Of even more significance, the HBR study shows that leaders that espouse the above four principles achieved an average return on assets (ROA) of 9.35% over a two year period. The latter, nearly five times (x5) as much as what those with low character ratings achieved, with ROA averaging a miserable 1.93%. The development industry cannot just disregard such statistics, albeit, from the private sector. Can you begin to imagine what approximately 10% ROA in the private sector is equivalent to, in development industry ROA? I want to believe that millions of poor people will be shifted out of poverty. This, before adding all the other positive impact attained, if resource leakage that happens via direct corruption got stopped.

HBR elaborates further, the manifestations of this type of leader in character: i.e. standing up for what is right, expressing concern for the common good, letting go of mistakes (their own and others), and showing empathy. Some of these are lacking in our development industry closet – I dare ask a question at this point: do leaders in the development industry always stand for what is right? One of my blogs discussed the subject of appeasement and values-driven leadership in the development industry and talks to the first character trait here.

Please note that value-proposition brand-integrity brings to organizations, and organizational culture/vision that invests in and demands brand-integrity of its leadership are two different things. I can say with confidence that the majority of international development organizations wish, try, and understand the need for brand-integrity. Whether they can invest in and facilitate an enabling system to realize their wish, is something that needs further exploration. It appears like the problem of integrity/corruption is simply too compounded for such organizations to master well, and invest in what it takes to address the problem, including growing a thick skin to fight powerful foes.

What is my take away today?

Development is doing much good and will continue to do so. Extreme poverty continues to challenge all the development brains in this world. However, we also know that the development industry continues to leak resources that are meant to change the fortunes of the poor. A corrupt culture, in some instances, institutionalized, continues to divert resources intended for the poor. This issue, and I hope industry watchers are paying attention, will become worse before getting better.

As power shifts to the contemporary Southern civil society organization, whose founding orientation was either political or business, there will continue to be misalignment between founder-intention and the overarching development gender, which is to eradicate poverty. There is a difference, and a big one at that, between creating a Southern civil society entity to employ myself and others (all about bread and butter) and one that genuinely helps the poor and taking it as a life commitment, paid or not (this is close to a religious calling like we have seen of Catholic clergy or the Gandhi’s of the world). In discussing the latter, you start to get into an underlying cause analysis of the constant lack of integrity and the corruption we see in the South. If I am not genuinely into development to help the vulnerable, but for bread and butter or other political agenda, then I cannot be endeared to what I am doing, and shall get tempted to do what is not right.

The above is what organizational development experts, working for the development industry, have to address. For those of you working in the development industry:

• Are you genuinely concerned about changing the fortunes of the poor?

• Are you poor yourself and want to make your life better?

• Do you consider this work business and have a spirit of scooping as much as you can after all, your interest is bottom line economics?

• Do you accept you need to put bread and butter on the table for yourself and family, but at the same time, have your heart and mind in what you are doing?

If we all agree that leadership brand-integrity, as manifested in the character traits above, brings significant value to the business value chain, what can the development industry do to attain the same for itself and others?



Categories: You, the Leader!

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2 replies

  1. I’m tempted to think that much of the problems in the development industry, especially here in the South, emanates from the apparent lack of regulatory bodies let alone not having proper governance systems. As a result we see owner managed entities with no considerations whatsoever to their clients – “the poor”. Commissions/Authorities to enforce some sort of standardization and guidance can minimize the scourge.

    We need to talk about this corruption thing repeatedly, but also we need a regulator who will carry a big stick if we are to successfully stop this leader led theft in the development industry – I think. Leaders need to under go some sort of “Fit and Proper Test” before they take up leadership positions in development entities.

    Like

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