Archive for principles

What else matters?

If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters. — Alan K. Simpson

Like you, I’ve read a lot of books on leadership, self-development, team building, relationships, success, and general happiness. Like you, I read a fair number of blogs, and follow a generous number of smart coaches and thinkers on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. And I’d say this word integrity comes up frequently, whether in a question, as in: “What does integrity mean to you?” or “Is it important for leaders to have integrity and why?”, or in a list, as in: “Top 5 Success Criteria”, or in combination with other qualities or skills in a discussion such as: “How to Communicate More Effectively.”

What I don’t often see is a discussion of how to build and maintain integrity. So here’s my primer on how to begin.

Integrity is often confused with honesty. While these two concepts are very similar, there are some important differences. Let’s start by looking at the definitions of both integrity and honesty from

in·teg·ri·ty [in-teg-ri-tee] (noun)

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished

hon·es·ty [on-uh-stee] (noun)

1. the quality or fact of being honest; uprightness and fairness
2. truthfulness, sincerity, or frankness
3. freedom from deceit or fraud

Notice that the emphasis in honesty is to be truthful and free from deceit. This is an important aspect of integrity (see the first definition of integrity). But it is only a part of the picture. The emphasis in integrity is on adherence to ethical principles (which includes honesty) and maintaining wholeness.

Notice that the definition of integrity doesn’t list which principles. This is why there can be discussions on LinkedIn that go on for weeks about the meaning of integrity. Not everyone agrees on which ethical principles are the ones that should be upheld without exception — or whether there should even be exceptions in certain cases. That decision of exceptions, in itself, is an ethical decision based on principles.

The adoption and commitment to ethical principles is a very personal decision. We’re talking about values. Some of those values we claim to share in the United States: freedom to pursue certain activities, or freedom from certain political oppressions, for example. And even those freedoms are hotly debated — how much freedom, for whom, under what circumstances, to what end, and so on. Many of those values we disagree on: Is happiness more important than wisdom? Authenticity? Family? Love? God? Kindness? Fairness?

If I asked you to name your top five values — the ones that guide your life, your decisions, that you do not compromise — could you list them right now, without hesitation? This is an important question to consider because without clarity in regard to our values, living with and in integrity is very difficult. How can you know you are adhering to moral and ethical principles if you don’t know what those principles are? How do you know your character is sound? You might say, “Well, I know I’m not going to go out and kill anyone.” Well, sure, but that situation is likely not causing you a lot of conflict on a daily basis either. It’s not very likely testing your integrity. You are much more likely in conflict about something like one of the below:

  • Are you justifying a small cheat on your taxes, counting on the odds to keep you from getting caught?
  • Are you engaging in a safe flirtation behind the back of your significant other, knowing that they would be very upset and/or hurt if they found out?
  • Are you spending way too much time surfing the internet at work, taking longer lunches than you should, coming in late, leaving early, using sick time instead of vacation, or in some other way cheating your employer of the time and attention they are paying you for?
  • Have you been putting off having a difficult conversation with an employee, child, significant other, friend, or other family member because you just don’t want to deal with the issue?
  • Are you eating, drinking, sleeping, spending, or smoking too much, and justifying it in some way because you don’t want to face some difficult reality in your life?
  • Have you been pushing that same pile of paper around your desk for weeks on end because you would rather do something other than sit down and deal with the filing, task, project, person, problem, decision, or question?

If you started feeling uncomfortable and answered “yes”, “maybe”, or even started justifying a “no” answer to any of the above, you might want to take an honest look at your actions in light of your values. If you easily and honestly answered “no” to every question, OR if you answered “yes” but honestly do not feel any conflict at all, you are likely not challenged by the examples above. No matter what your answers were, looking at your values can be a very empowering and enlightening exercise. Getting clarity about values ensures that we are living with integrity, regardless of how others define their values.Clarify your values by writing them down — no more than five for best results, because you can’t truly dedicate yourself to more than roughly five core principles at a time with great energy and purpose — and then consciously choose actions that align with those values. When you find yourself in conflict, consider your values — your ethical principles — and choose the option that keeps you whole in light of those principles.

Clarifying values so we can live with integrity is certainly not magical and won’t resolve all conflicts or solve all problems — personal or interpersonal, but it is a great place to start. It is also a great starting place for resolving communication conflicts, teamwork issues, and leadership, relationship, and parenting challenges. When we understand others’ values, we can support them in living in integrity just as we ask for their support in helping us do the same.

There may be a lot of things that are important, and your list of core values may not include integrity. But if we stand back and take a global view, considering the overall impact of living in integrity, the quote above begins to beg the question: What else could matter more?

New Model for Needs Hierarchy by Michelle Kunz

A poor person isn’t he who has little, but he who needs a lot. – German Proverb

Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it. – Marian Anderson

I was at a networking event last week where a very interesting topic came up: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For those of you who are a bit rusty on your psychology, Abraham Maslow developed a theory back in the 1940s that explained human motivation based on our needs. To make it simple, once our most basic physiological needs are met — clothing, food, shelter, sleep — we can turn our attention to higher needs such as personal safety: personal safety from crime, financial security, health and well-being, safety nets against accidents and illness. Next on the list would be the group centered on love or belonging — our social needs: developing and growing friendship, family and sexual intimacy. Esteem follows: self-esteem, confidence, respect and a sense of achievement. The highest of all needs is labeled self-actualization and includes creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, acceptance and lack of prejudice. These needs are typically represented as a pyramid, with lowest needs at the base and highest needs at the pinnacle.

The first four sets of needs (all but self-actualization) Maslow referred to as Deficiency Needs. Whenever any of these needs are absent or threatened, we are likely to feel anxious or even suffer depression. However, according to Maslow, once we have met the needs in one group, we move up the pyramid and remain focused primarily on the needs of the next level. We may re-prioritize our attention for a period of time on a lower level need, but we do not permanently shift back down.

The conversation I had at this networking event challenged this last bit of the theory. In today’s society we are teethed on Oprah, well acquainted with Dr. Chopra and his friends, we’ve heard of Wayne Dyer and Don Miguel Ruiz, even if we haven’t read their works. We probably feel pretty self-actualized. We are in touch with our creativity, enjoy a degree of spontaneity unavailable to previous generations, engage in extremely innovative problem solving techniques — we even hire people to teach us to be more out of the box than we already are because we value this so highly. We are accepting and unprejudiced. Right?

So why are we so anxious about the market and the possibility of losing our jobs if something should go wrong? Why do we stay up at night worrying about the mortgage and the bills? Why do we agonize over the right school for our kids and whether or not we are truly safe? We don’t follow doctor’s orders to stop smoking or lose weight or even perform self breast exams because we are anxious about the truth of our health in spite of thousands of dollars a year in health club fees. We eat junk, we eat more junk when we are stressed and we spend money on things we will never, ever, ever need. How does this fit into Maslow’s hierarchy?

My conversation partner proposed we needed a new model — Maslow’s was developed for a society where people went to work for the same company until they retired. Once you had a job, you had job security and that was that. You worked twenty years, you retired, you received your pension, and you were done. And you knew that in advance. But hold on, this was the middle of World War II. That idyllic picture was gone. Our men were at war and our women were at work keeping the war going. Everyone was anxious. Why? Because personal security, national security — ALL security was at risk. Families and friendships were temporarily and often permanently broken and divided during the war. And at the lowest level of needs — there was frequent rationing of basic supplies. People were unable to sleep well. Who had time for self-actualization?

Modern Society’s War on Self-Actualization

I was willing to entertain the need for a new model during my conversation. But after giving this some additional thought, I am reversing that opinion. I think Maslow’s hierarchy works as well today as it ever did. The trouble is, we are at war with self-actualization. We do lip service to it — we have the books and the TV shows and all the proper vocabulary. But we do not dedicate any real time to the pursuit of creativity, spontaneity, innovation, acceptance and lack of prejudice. But we sense it would be a nice thing to do, so we talk about it a lot. But there is a huge difference between lip service and sweat service.

Here’s the problem: we are still stuck on things. We are committed to the pursuit of material goods. We are stockpiling against the possibility of loss, so we buy more, bigger, fancier and more expensive to prove our worth, our success, our worthiness, our happiness, and our lack of concern. It’s all backwards. The acquisition of those items belongs in the first level of needs, along with clothing, food, shelter, and perhaps a few belong with personal security if you’d like to count that fancy security system on your home or the bigger car because you think it will protect you in an accident. Those are low level needs, my friends.

Friendship, family and intimacy are not grown through the constant acquisition of material goods. Neither are self esteem, confidence, nor respect. Every time I get a fancy catalog in the mail and they are trying to sell me prestige or self esteem, or worse, my own sex appeal, I laugh out loud. They do not fool me. I know that none of those can be bought. Well, perhaps prestige, but that is extremely superficial, and we all know it. Having it adds to our sense of anxiety. Self esteem, confidence, achievement, respect, creativity, spontaneity, acceptance, lack of prejudice — these run deep and cannot ever be purchased, not at any price in any store. You earn these.

If you are worried about your job or the market or any of the things which are out of your control, why not take stock? Do you have your basic needs met to the best of your ability? If so, why not take a leap of faith and let go of what you cannot purchase? Opportunities lie in wait where disaster appears to those with lesser courage. Yearn for higher needs and nothing can happen that you cannot handle. It’s called self actualization and it can solve a lot of your anxiety problems. Embrace active creativity, innovation, acceptance and spontaneity. Do something, don’t just talk about it.

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Givers Gain by Michelle Kunz

The Business Network International (BNI) business philosophy is “Givers Gain,” and this seems an appropriate sentiment for the holiday season. Giving is on everyone’s mind during these last weeks of the year. Traditionally, we’re thinking of gifts, how much to spend, what to give to whom, how to get it all done, and feeling a lot of stress about the entire package. But as leaders this seasonal emphasis on giving affords us the opportunity to examine our relationships for an entirely different kind of gift.


The BNI philosophy is designed to help build networking relationships which really work. Power networkers know that it isn’t merely who you know that matters, it is how much they know that you care about them which infuses your network with potential. In a traditional, personal, face-to-face network, this means spending time with people and truly getting to know who they are and what their business is about. When you make time to regularly meet with members of your first line network, you will begin to find opportunities to give them referrals, introduce them to strategic partners or find other ways in which to help them which are meaningful and lasting. This builds trust and confidence in you which will have lasting future benefits. Who in your network can you give to this holiday season?

Team building

Our teams often see more of us than our friends and families do. They work hard hopefully because they enjoy their work and respect the principles of the organization for which they work. Sometimes the work is more enjoyable than at other times. Often during the holidays people experience a great deal of stress when they have additional family obligations coupled with ongoing job responsibilities. A great leader looks for opportunities not only to lead, but also to be of service to those whom they lead. “Givers Gain” is particularly helpful in scenarios such as these because a leader who can get down into the trenches with their team to finish a project on time and lighten everyone’s load will sow seeds of loyalty and respect with their team members. Such giving must be done with humor and generosity — a sense of “we’re all in this together,” never a sigh of martyrdom or sacrifice. A gift can backfire on the giver if the recipient suspects that giving it makes the giver resentful or that a score is being kept. How can you give to your team this holiday season?

Management special

All year long we do our best to raise our visibility with our supervisors in senior or executive management. We put in extra long hours, spin our creativity wheels to come up with innovative products and solutions, and stir up the fires in our teams to drive up motivation and productivity. What more can we possibly do during the holidays to give something of value? Of all the groups in corporate families, upper management receives the hardest and heaviest of the attacks when it comes to criticism — from all directions. They are constantly under scrutiny and are liable for answers at any time for everything they say and do, and every reported loss or gain the company experiences. At this time of year, perhaps the nicest and most meaningful thing we can do for our managers is stop thinking about our side of the story and consider theirs. A simple, personal and meaningful gesture of gratitude might be all we need to do to shift their experience of being at the helm for a few moments. How can you give to your management team this holiday season?

Jack Canfield speaks eloquently and frequently of exceeding expectations. He describes various ways in which to do this — go the extra mile, give more than people expect, give something above and beyond what is expected — all variations of the “Givers Gain” philosophy. When we go beyond the minimum, think beyond ourselves and into the other person’s situation and needs, give the unexpected and cast aside all concern of what makes us look good, we feel great, others feel great, and the world (even for just a moment) becomes a place of generosity, trust, love and good will.

Michelle Kunz
PEL Coaching

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Are You Self-Motivated, Going-Through-the-Motions, or Tuned-Out? by Michelle Kunz

In an article on engagement (“Engage me or enrage me”, Management Issues, 26 Sep 2006), Max McKeown describes three possible types of students and the three possible types of employees they may become: self-motivated, going-through-the-motions or tuned-out. These types develop as a result of the education system failing to fully engage a student, followed by their employment experience failing to fully engage them. This post does not intend to address the issues of the education system nor describe the three types and how to diagnose them. The reason I bring this to your attention is that as a leader, you are going to have these types on your team. And you, yourself, are also most likely one of these types.

In a series of separate articles Management Issues addresses a host of topics related to employee engagement. Among them is the article “The keys to employee engagement” (February 2007) in which a UK poll of 100,000 employees suggests that managers who lead by example, listen to their employees and engage in life long learning are most likely to engage employees. Let me paint this a little more clearly for those of you who may be feeling lost. The self-motivated employees are your smallest problem. If you have any hope of engaging the going-through-the-motion and the tuned-out types, you are going to have to step up to the plate and engage yourself first.

Leading by example

If we are to lead by example, we must first take an honest, no-holds-barred look at ourselves and see where we stand. If it is possible that our employees fall into one of three categories (self-motivated, going-through-the-motions, or tuned-out), then we must assess ourselves and see where we fall as well. To lead others, we must be able to lead ourselves. We must be able to walk the talk. This is because there is no leadership without trust. Trust requires vulnerability. And vulnerability requires that we can readily and freely admit our strengths AND our weaknesses. What we know and what we don’t. Where we are confident and where we need help. How can we expect our team to do what we ourselves are unwilling to do?

Leadership is an ongoing study in self growth. There is no way you can lead from a going-through-the-motions or a tuned-out position. We must get to a place of self motivation. This is sometimes simply a matter of hard work and discipline. Just when you think you’ve conquered your last experience with boredom and apathy, a day comes when the work facing you for the next eight hours seems less aligned with your internal fire and vision than you had hoped. The true test of self motivation arrives at that moment in the shape of: What do you do under those circumstances?

There are thousands of books written to tell you how to keep positive thoughts going, how to write out your goals and keep them in front of you to inspire you, how to prioritize and organize your time and tasks. And there are some people for whom those systems work very, very well. But what about those for whom the systems occasionally or perhaps even often don’t work? Is this an indication that they are less self-motivated? By definition, I argue that this means that in fact, no, they are not less self-motivated. For the first group, it is the goal, the positive thoughts, the system which is keeping them going — and as long as that works, they should keep doing it! But what if you are struggling to get motivated by goals, positive thoughts and systems?

Tapping into your values and principles

Some people are strongly motivated by a set of deeply held inner values and core principles by which their entire worlds are organized. When a project or even a small chore or task aligns with those values, they experience a sense of urgency and excitement which carries them through the action required. It doesn’t feel like work at all, and the time flies. If a given project or task does not seem to align with those core values, it is extremely difficult to see the point in doing it. It feels like a waste of time, and the time drags by.

The truth is, all of us have these core values and principles. We simply are not always aware of what they are. We have never stopped to give it any thought. If I were to ask you to define and rank your top five values, you might have a very difficult time coming up with a list. You might easily come up with twenty values you think should have equal importance, or you might struggle to come up with three. Either experience is simply an indication that you have not had the opportunity to think in these terms before.

As a powerful leader, it is essential to know clearly and without hesitation what your defining values are. When you have clarified this for yourself, you will become aware of which activities align with your values and which do not. And several options will become available to you. You can delegate a certain task to someone else who might have better alignment with the task; you can re-frame the task; or you can simply say no and seek tasks which are in better alignment with your values.

Furthermore, once you have clarity around values and principles, any set of goals, positive thoughts and external systems will have more value for you because you will ensure that whatever you are working with, it aligns with some deeper meaning. This creates a powerful synergy within you that allows the outer stuff (the goals, ideas, etc.) to have much more purpose. You will experience greater buy-in to your own plans.

Listening deeply to those we lead

Whether it is our children, someone we serve as a volunteer, or our employees, learning to listen deeply is essential in mastering the art of engaging others. The key is to listen to clues as to what the other person’s values and core principles might be. As we have seen, it is here that the essential ingredients — the keys — lie to true motivation.

For example, if someone is struggling with a particular task, we can ask empowering questions. What about the task is challenging? If the answer is anything other than skill related, this is a sign that something is out of alignment for the other person. Resistance in any form is a sign of misalignment. Sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to uncover assumptions or limiting beliefs that are simply in the way of alignment occurring. This can be true if the person we are working with believes that the task isn’t important, that no one cares about their project, that perceptions exist about their role in the company and so on. Our job at that point is to remove the assumptions and limiting beliefs so the person can become realigned with their task.

If the person we are working with begins to talk about not feeling connected to the bigger project or company picture, this is an indication of a larger type of misalignment which may or may not be able to be adjusted. Helping the person articulate their inner values at this point can be very helpful. Questions such as: What are the most important things to you in your life? What do you value the most in life? asked in a safe, confidential context can help the individual and you come to a greater understanding of what kind of work really motivates them. If you can then find a way to connect the work required of them to their motivations, you can help realign them to the task at hand. If not, it is sometimes better for all people involved if the person moves on to something else they are better suited for.

Life long learning

There are many types of learning, and it is easiest to focus on the external acquisition of additional skills. As leaders, who we are is often more important than what we know. To fully maximize our potential in being we need to become skilled in the area of self awareness. Self awareness is a life long process. It is not a course you take on a weekend where you receive a certificate and then you’re done. Of all the learning we can do to become more powerful leaders, self awareness is among the most important. When we seek to lead by example, how else can we truly accomplish that without a deep understanding of what it is we do and why? This applies everywhere — how we listen, how we talk, how we organize our tasks, how we approach problems, how we interact with others — and why. Self awareness does not require years of therapy (in the absence of psychological distress), but it does require an ongoing willingness to look inward and ask questions.

Many of us would prefer to not look within. We are afraid of what we will see and the implications. We’ll have to change everything, and we know that is impossible, so we feel like failures before we ever begin. That approach is filled with assumptions and limiting beliefs. A more curious and gentle approach might serve us better. We aren’t looking to deconstruct every relationship we ever had. We’re looking to get to know ourselves better. What am I really like? What makes my creative and energetic juices flow? What do I like and don’t like? If there were no other people or institutions in the world (i.e., no pressure), what would I choose for this or that? Why am I not choosing that now? If I could have any resource I needed within 24 hours, what would I choose to do within the next 48?

The answers to these questions shed a great deal of light on who we are now and who we might become. Powerful leaders look for potential within as well as without and they know that like the old song “let peace begin with me”, motivation, engagement, excitement, inspiration, all that is good in leadership begins with one person: me.

Are you self-motivated, going-through-the-motions or tuned-out? Regardless of were you are now, you have the ability to make a big shift into the type you choose to be. Choose powerful leadership. Choose leading by example, deep listening and life long learning.

Excellence is Giving by Michelle Kunz

Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

I have come to believe that giving and receiving are really the same.
Giving and receiving – not giving and taking.
— Joyce Grenfell

Perfection is taking.
Excellence is giving.

In the second quote, Joyce Grenfell makes an important distinction between receiving and taking. This distinction also gets to the heart of the important difference between perfection and excellence for the purpose of our discussion.

Tracing our steps, perfectionism begins when we become vested in our being right. We become entrenched in the status quo, defending it hotly and building great arguments against change. We gradually come to fear all that change represents as we continue to find every excuse why our way is the best way. This fear leads to anger and frustration when others cannot or will not conform to our ideas about the way things ought to be. As we tighten our grip on our perceived sense of order, we drive others to anger and frustration as they feel our rigidity cutting off their creativity and individuality. Finally, we apply our version of right and wrong to challenges we face and mire ourselves in the tyranny of judgment.

Given the fear-oriented, rigid position of the perfectionist’s view of the world, it is understandable that such a person might be tempted to adopt a “What’s in it for me?” attitude toward challenge, including change, risk and sacrifice. Fear encourages us to see the possibility of loss and/or failure, and as a result, we grasp at everything we have now and what little we see might be available to us in the near future. We want to get and keep a tight hold, in case it all disappears, because this is what we fear most.

The dynamic created by a grasping orientation is essentially one of taking. We reach out and bring to us anything within our reach, whether it is right for us or not. We do this because we are collecting all we can against the possibility of ultimate loss and/or failure. This stockpiling of successes and material goods is an empty endeavor in the end because one can never fill the hole that fear creates deep within.

How are giving and receiving the same?

When we shift our orientation to one of excellence, which is grounded in a willingness to be wrong, gives us confidence to take risks, empowers us and others to be spontaneous, and looks for ways in which to accept what is in the current moment context, we free ourselves to see possibilities instead of failure. This freedom results in an openness to generosity — in both directions. Rather than look for “What’s in it for me?” we begin to shift to “What’s in it for us?” or even the more empowering “What’s in it for you?”

This openness allows us to not only give freely, but also to receive without suspicion or guilt. When we are stuck in a “What’s in it for me?” mentality, it is easy to believe that everyone else is stuck there with us. When we move away to a more open, generous belief system, it doesn’t matter. We take people as they are and appreciate whatever we find because we are looking for possibilities.

Why is giving important in building powerful leadership?

When we begin to give freely and actively seek the advantage for the other person, a marvelous thing happens. Powerful leadership begins to take root. To quote BNI’s motto: “Givers Get.” What do they get? It’s hard to predict exactly, and true givers don’t try to manipulate the outcome. Some of what might come back includes:

  • Trust — people trust those who have their interests truly at the center of all they do
  • Admiration — people admire those who commit their energies to advancing the common good
  • Respect — people respect those who dedicate their time to helping others win
  • Wisdom — when we listen deeply to what others need we learn more about ourselves and the world around us
  • Humility — giving to others shines a mirror back on all that we have and helps us feel grateful
  • Authenticity — giving deeply of ourselves removes the filters we keep in place when we withhold, requiring our true selves to come into focus
  • Integrity — aligning our values with principles which do not change greatly simplifies the challenge of walking our talk

These are some of the qualities of a powerful leader. Truly great leaders aren’t always made. Sometimes they simply are. Allowing that to take place can be a much bigger challenge than acquiring an impressive resume or the accoutrements of success. Great leaders know how to let go and allow their best selves to brilliantly shine.