GUT CHECK: Are You Passing The Integrity Test As A Leader?

February 28, 2014 Vince Molinaro
fracking - blog pic

Photo courtesy Fort Worth Citizens Against Neighborhood Drilling Ordinance

One of my first jobs was working in a men’s clothing retail store. My first manager, Gary, was a terrific boss. He held high expectations for himself and his team. It was great working for him.

When Gary was promoted to head office, Steve came in his place.

Now Steve was a decent guy, but he did not stack up well against Gary. Steve had a different set of expectations for himself and his team. His famous line was, “don’t do as I do, do as I say.”

Steve was the kind of guy who would arrive late at work, leave early but still found time to chastise anyone else who tried the same thing. I remember how much that infuriated me and my coworkers. At the end of the day, it was clear Steve lacked real integrity.

As we all know, integrity is the cornerstone of great leadership. Even so, it’s amazing how many leaders lose touch with that tenet.

Take the recent example of Rex Tillerson, the chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp. Late last week, it was confirmed in numerous news reports that Tillerson had lent his name to a lawsuit that seeks to stop the construction of a 160-foot water tower next to his ranch in Bartonville, Texas, a wealthy suburb of Dallas.

The problem for Tillerson is that the tower is needed to satisfy rapidly growing demand for water driven in large part by shale gas fracking operations. Oil companies use massive amounts of water to unlock oil and gas from dense rock formations.

Oil companies like – you guessed it – Exxon Mobil.

Tillerson has not spoken publicly since the story broke, but his lawyer has suggested the suit does not oppose fracking, per se. The lawyer said Tillerson is concerned about the noise and traffic that will accompany the tower, and how that could erode property values.

Tillerson has given a deposition to support the lawsuit, and has spoken out against the tower at two public meetings.

The problem is that just about everyone knows that the water tower is a direct consequence of fracking, and the traffic and noise Tillerson is so concerned about is from the trucks needed to haul water to nine shale wells that are located within a mile or so of Tillerson’s home.

Tillerson may want to draw an imaginary line between his personal and corporate interests, but it’s unlikely Exxon Mobil can see the difference. Certainly, the opponents of fracking – who are deeply concerned about the environmental and public health consequences of this practice – have found new life and new ammunition in their fight against Big Oil.

This is a test of a leader’s integrity, pure and simple. Do you think Tillerson is passing the test? How are we to interpret his actions?

Tillerson’s actions are essentially communicating that fracking is absolutely fine as long as it’s in some else’s backyard. This makes him a NIMBY (not in my backyard) leader and it completely erodes his leadership integrity.

Is something similar happening to you in your leadership role? Is there an issue that may be eroding your own leadership integrity? Do you say one thing, and then do something completely different?

So this week’s Gut Check question asks: Are you passing the leadership integrity test?

About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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