ă 1998 by
William A. Cohen
All rights reserved, but may be
quoted or reproduced with attribution.
article appeared first in Canadian Manager March,
I spent almost eight years
researching and interviewing more than 200 combat leaders who went on to highly
successful careers in industry, including 62 generals and admirals.
Why combat leadership? Years
ago Peter F. Drucker, perhaps the foremost management thinker of our time, wrote
that the first systematic book on leadership was written more than two thousand
years ago by Xenophon, and yet it was still the best. Xenophon was a Grecian
general, and he wrote about combat leadership.
I am not recommending war. Few
who have been in war would describe it as other than horrible. However, battle
requires a very high state of leadership and it represents a worse case
condition. Not only is there great risk and uncertainty, but also "working
conditions" are horrible. Most followers and leaders would rather be
somewhere else. If leadership under these conditions can be mastered and you
apply these lessons elsewhere, you can lead anywhere and other any conditions.
After my initial research, I
personally spoke with dozens of other highly successful top corporate leaders. Combat
leaders who had gone on to successful careers in industry and other
organizations and other top corporate leaders agreed that integrity
is the most significant factor in successful leadership, in or out of the
Seven thousand years of
recorded history confirmed this judgment. There are numerous historical
examples. Benjamin Franklin, who was a colonel in the Pennsylvania militia,
concluded that through his integrity and lack of dogmatic expression he led his
fellow citizens despite the fact that he was "a bad speaker, never
eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in
One hundred and fifty
years later, Leonard Roberts became CEO of Arby’s, the fast food restaurant
chain when it was losing money. He made Arby's profitable, but then resigned
from the board of directors to which he had been appointed when Arby’s owner
threatened to withhold bonuses for Robert’s staff, and not to give promised
help to Arby’s franchisees in order to further increase profits. In
retaliation for his stand, Arby’s owner fired Roberts.
Roberts went right from the
frying pan and into the fire. He was hired as CEO of another restaurant chain.
This time, it was Shoney’s. . To
his dismay, he found that Shoney’s was the subject of the largest racial
discrimination suit in history. And the suit was well deserved! Shoney’s owner
not only would not hire African-Americans, but also he fired any restaurant
manager who did. Roberts promised that the suit would be settled fairly.
Shoney’s owner agreed to pay up and settle, but only if Roberts would resign
afterwards. Said Roberts, “My stand on integrity was getting a little hard on
my wife and kids. However, I knew it had to be done. There was no other way.”
Ultimately, Roberts became CEO of Radio Shack, and a year after that, CEO of
Tandy’s, which owns Radio Shack. Not long ago, Brandweek
magazine named him Retailer of the Year.
Today, Roberts says, “You
cannot fake it. You must stand up for what is right regardless. You cannot
maintain your integrity 90 percent and be a leader. It’s got to be 100
What exactly is this quality
which is so universally prized among leaders? Integrity means adherence to a set
of values which incorporates honesty and freedom from deception. But it is more
than honesty. It means doing the right thing regardless of circumstances or
benefits to the leader or the organization. It means doing the right thing even
if no one is looking.
an example of what I am talking about. I
read this story first in a book by Retired Major General Perry M. Smith. He
knows something about integrity. He’s the consultant that resigned his
well-paying job with CNN. In doing so, he shined a spotlight on CNN and forced
the giant network to retract its erroneous and biased story claiming that the
American military’s used gas to kill its own men in Vietnam. He lost a lot of
income, but he did the right thing. But, back to Babe Zaharias.
Zaharias was a champion
amateur golfer in the 1932 Olympics, and later a professional golfer. On one
occasion she penalized herself two strokes when she accidentally played the
wrong ball. “Why did you do it?” asked a friend. “No one saw you. No one
would have known the difference.” “I
would have known,” replied Babe Zacharias, a champion of integrity.
Maintaining absolute integrity
is the bottom line rule for any leader if they want their subordinates to follow
them during all conditions. You can develop your integrity if you will:
Guard your principles. This means that you must be trustworthy and principled. This is a part of maintaining your integrity as well.
the right thing. When you are in a situation
that you stand to lose a lot by stating the complete truth, that is exactly
the time to do the right thing. When you treat others with respect, they
will treat you with respect as well.
that you stand to lose a lot by stating the complete truth, that is exactly the time to do the right thing. When you treat others with respect, they will treat you with respect as well.