Honor Roll

Want to be a better leader? If so, forget trying to be so charismatic. Instead, make sure you follow through on your promises and practice what you preach. In a word, become the kind of straight shooter employees love to work for. Then step back and watch your profits soar! That's the conclusion of a recent leadership study of 6,500 hotel employees, recently reported in the September Harvard Business Review: "The High Cost of Lost Trust," by Tony Simmons.

It really is quite obvious. If employees have confidence in the honesty of their leaders, they are more committed to their work, more open to new ideas, and more willing to follow their boss' lead. They are eager to go the extra mile. This results in greater customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to increased profits. This ripple effect from behavior to profits is striking: Hotels where employees strongly believed their managers demonstrated the values they preached were substantially more profitable than those whose managers scored average or below!

Here are three quick ways to increase this all-important integrity factor.

1. Always be honest If your people don't trust you, what aspect of leadership is left to you? It only takes one lie for a manager to be branded a "liar." By contrast, it takes a lot of truth-telling before your people will ever believe you again. So when you feel the need to fudge, stifle the urge and simply go for the truth.

2. Commit to change thoughtfully Beware of the latest management fads. Remember "quality circles"? Between 1980 and 1982, 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies adopted this new approach. Five years later, a full 80 percent had abandoned them. Resist the temptation to constantly experiment. Select a few good organizational goals and ask your people to move in that direction, slowly. Too much, too fast, only alienates the troops.

3. Clear up blind spots Most managers are not aware of inconsistencies between their words and their actions. Instead, they too often justify their actions, even if they clearly conflict with previous statements. To offset this, pick out a respected colleague who can regularly give you constructive feedback about how you're doing integrity-wise. Consult often, listen carefully, and make adjustments when necessary.

Is all this really that important to your bottom line? According to the study, the link between managers' integrity and a firm's profits pencils out like this: A one-eighth point improvement in a hotel's integrity score translates to an increase in the hotel's profitability by 2.5 percent of revenues, or $250,000 per year! Not bad for a little more honesty from managers.

By Dr. Tom McDonald