Opinion: Post-Bailout CEOs Need Integrity

Post-Bailout CEOs will have to deliver results with an unprecedented commitment to openness, transparency and the engagement of others.
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By Todd Thomas, founder of IMPACT Consulting and Development.

Only one in a 100 respondents said that they trusted their leaders in a December 2008 poll by


. Those who said they did either trusted specific leaders they knew or felt they had no choice but to trust their leaders because they are in a position of power.

While this question was asked in the context of political leadership, my work over the last 20 years with corporations and organizations would suggest that distrust in the corporate leadership world is nearly, if not equally, as bad.

So what? Does it actually matter whether corporate leaders have values? Until recently, we might have said, "No. Not really."

When the CEOs of

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report



(F) - Get Report



were providing shareholder results, we didn't really care whether or not they were using the corporate jet for short business trips. "Why not," we would say. He's "delivering results." And therein lies the problem of the culture that created the current situation.

For example, when success for

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Report

or any of the other major investment firms correlated entirely with financial outcome and the ability to make quick decisions, we get what we pay for: CEOs and top executives who do whatever it takes to keep shareholders happy and bonuses astronomical. This CEO has to be efficiency-minded, execution oriented and persistent in the face of adversity in order to keep feeding the beast of "return expectations."

So if the "Before-Bailout CEO" helped get us into this mess (with our support by the way), what will the After-Bailout CEO need to look like in order to get us out of it? Of course this new CEO will still have to deliver results. In fact, with the current economic status on Wall Street, it would appear that now more than ever we need results-oriented CEOs in order to turn around the current business outlook. The question then is not "What?" The question is "How?" And more importantly, what have we learned from the current situation that can guide us in the future?

Integrity is the Bottom-Line

Why are we so eager today to vilify the American CEO? The heroes of yesterday have suddenly become villains. Everything from use of corporate assets to items on individual expense reports has become the topic of numerous talk shows, editorials and news articles. Think about it. What upsets us more than anything at this moment is that we trusted our leaders to handle our affairs, to lead their businesses, and to make investment decisions with our best interests in mind.

We're not just poorer than we were yesterday, we're offended. In some ways we are hurt that we could have allowed this to happen. And somewhere deep in our psyche, we are also feeling guilty that we didn't ask the right questions to begin with. We are the ones who supported these leaders from the start, and now we are having to pay consequences we never expected to pay.

The CEOs of the future are going to have to be people of both intelligence and integrity. These future leaders have to focus on building confidence in the minds and spirits of their followers. This means that the leaders that move us out of this mess will have to not only have the intelligence to focus on results, but the integrity to do it in a way that builds confidence and faith in the leader and his or her decisions. Leaders with integrity are consistent, willing to trust others and care about their well-being. They are honest and transparent in a way that allows others to see not only their decisions but the reasoning behind their decisions

Leaders with integrity also are accessible to their followers and observers. Many of the crash-and-burn leaders of recent past have been unwilling and unable to hear or act on feedback. Leaders with integrity are also skilled at what they do and are willing to be held accountable for results without blaming and complaining. (Great Harvest Bread, for example, has a 24/7/365 "Learning Community" where all discussions are open to all franchisees...not just employees or executives).

Perhaps most challenging, a leader with integrity has a self-awareness that creates a link between the leader and the reality that is experienced by customers, shareholders and employees. The After-Bailout CEOs will need to have a realistic view of their own strengths and weaknesses and be open to those in the process of their leadership.

The Before- and After-Bailout CEOs have in common the need to deliver quick and profitable results. There is no question that, to turn things around, some difficult and sometimes brutal business decisions will have to be made. And ultimately, without financial profitability, the future CEOs can be the greatest people alive but have nothing to lead! These CEOs will have to deliver results with an unprecedented commitment to openness, transparency and the engagement of others. Integrity builds confidence. And confidence will be a key to the success of the After-Bailout CEO.

Leadership Development Specialist, Todd Thomas PhD, M.S, M.A, is Founder of IMPACT Consulting and Development.

Todd Thomas holds a PhD in Human Communication, Masters in Educational Psychology and a Masters in Interpersonal Communication. He was a professor of organizational psychology at North Carolina State University and was previously the Executive Responsible for Organizational and Executive Development for DaimlerChrysler for almost 10 years.

Todd is an International Speaker providing seminars and presentations in over 20 countries, enabling leaders to create change for impact. He is a member of the National Speakers Association, the International Federation of Speakers and the Les Brown Platinum Speakers Network.