Why is it that people act differently in a group than they would individually? Why would organizations put such little value in customer service, honesty, or the public good while doing everything possible to improve a company’s bottom line?
Sigmund Freud called this change in behavior the “herd mentality.” And you have to look no further than Enron to see how lack of integrity can spread and become so destructive.
Survival at Enron was simple: kill or be killed. Founder Ken Lay and CEO Jeffrey Skilling made it clear that employees either helped improve the company’s stock or they were fired. Leadership did not care about teamwork or communication skills. Leadership did not care about integrity or ethics.
A giant stock ticker was placed in the lobby at Enron and the company’s stock was tracked obsessively throughout the organization. No wonder team members acted so despicably during the California energy crisis in 2000, shutting down plants to artificially raise the price—causing blackouts in the process—and then turning the power back on when prices were high. The company made billions.
At Enron, the lack of integrity started at the top and it spread throughout the organization. Fortunately, the opposite can also occur. Good leaders know that integrity starts at the top, and leaders realize they have the ability raise or lower ethical standards throughout an organization.
In their book, Why are We Bad at Picking Good Leaders, Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran discuss seven essential qualities of strong leadership. It should come as no surprise that integrity is the most important characteristic.
What do you reinforce with your team? If haven’t done so already, consider making integrity contagious.