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Leading in a Crisis - Practice Seven

Colin Powell talking about trust
Model Integrity in Every Interaction

Practice Seven for the leader is to model integrity in every interaction. Colin Powell said, "Trust is the essence of leadership. If they do not trust you, they will not follow you." No matter what industry you are in, character matters. It is imperative to discover and define your values before a crisis hits. This internal moral compass will help you make better decisions consistently based on sound judgment. Yes. Analyze the data. Listen to advice from experts. Make sure the strategy is aligned to accomplish the mission. Ensure the organizational structure is designed for the new normal. After the technical aspects of leadership have been assessed, ask yourself if the execution of the plan is in alignment with the core values of the org and your personal core values as the leader. Your decisions are a reflection of your character - who you are. Allow me to illustrate with a simple story shared by Carol Graham entitled How One CEO Taught His Employees A Lesson In Integrity.

A successful businessman was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business. Instead of choosing one of his Directors or his children, he decided to do something different and called all the young executives in his company together. He said "It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you." The young executives were shocked as the boss continued. "I am going to give each one of you a seed today. This is one very SPECIAL seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO."

Jim, one of the executives, went home and excitedly told his wife the story. Together they got the pot, compost and soil to plant the seed. Every day, he watered it and watched it closely to see the progress. Three weeks went by and the other executives were bragging how well their seeds were growing. Every day, when Jim checked his pot, there was no sign of growth. After five weeks of this, Jim was pretty discouraged.

At the end of six months, Jim's pot still remained empty - no sign of growth. He imagined he had overwatered it or got the wrong kind of fertilizer as his colleagues continued to brag about how tall their plants were growing; some of them were now trees.

Absolutely NO growth after one full year

The year was up and they were instructed to bring their plants into the office for the CEO to inspect them. Jim told his wife how embarrassed he was to bring in an empty pot to the office, but she encouraged him to be honest. Jim brought the pot to the board room and heard the snickers of the other executives. Their plants were a variety of shapes and sizes. When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives. Jim tried to hide in the back, totally embarrassed. The CEO was praising the executives on the growth and beauty of their plants.

"Today, I am pleased to announce that one of you will be my new CEO!"

From the front of the room, the CEO asked Jim to come up and Jim froze in fear that he was about to lose his job. Walking slowly to the front of the room, there was pity on the faces of the other executives as they imagined Jim was going to be fired. The boss asked Jim what happened to his seed and Jim told the story of how he nurtured and cared for the seed but it never grew. The CEO then asked everyone to be seated except Jim as he announced, "I would like to introduce you all to your new Chief Executive Officer." There were gasps and questions "How can he be the new boss when his plant didn't even grow?" The CEO explained, "One year ago, I gave everyone in this room a seed. What you did not know was that each seed had been boiled and was a dead seed. It was absolutely impossible for any of them to grow."

Jim was the only one in this room with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. He did not substitute it with another seed like the rest of you did. Therefore, he has shown courage, honesty, and integrity and I know he will run this company with conscience."

It can be very difficult to make the right decisions when you don’t know who you are or what you stand for. Integrity is everything. Consider this question. Knowing what you know about yourself, would you follow you? In the words of Colin Powell, "If they trust you, they will follow you." Character matters!

John Wooden advised, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

That's it for now. Your candid feedback is both welcomed and appreciated. Please share your thoughts on Practice Seven. At Apogee, we work with entities to strengthen their pipeline of leaders. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, we specialize in helping others lead through change and we offer premier leadership training programs and experiences. Find out more at

Until the next time...


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