The toxic workplace trend that's stealing leadership integrity

Leadership expert reveals how to stamp out this 'enemy to company culture'

The toxic workplace trend that's stealing leadership integrity

Image management has long been a tool used by people trying to get ahead in the corporate world. Everyone wants to put their best foot forward and paint themselves in the best light possible, but research conducted by leadership training company, The Mindful Leader, indicates that in most organizations, 40% of employee time is wasted by people managing their images.

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World-renowned leadership development expert and founder of The Mindful Leader Michael Bunting believes image management is the enemy of a healthy company culture and HR leaders need to start stamping it out in their organizations.

“We’re not having real conversations, we’re having lots of pretend conversations,” Bunting says. “At the core of this image management is loss of organization integrity at a very deep level.”

Bunting works with thousands of corporate leaders around the globe. One of the questions he asks leaders is, “If you can never tell another lie, what would happen to the relationships in your life?” Most people answer, “My life and my relationships would fall apart, my work colleagues will think I’m an idiot because I will have to admit to stuff that I don’t know; it’s not safe to tell the truth.”

“So, what we found is the way out of image management is having a much deeper understanding of what integrity means,” Bunting says.

People tend to think of integrity as compliance, not breaking the law and following the rules. However, Bunting says that’s a common misconception.

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“Integrity is not a concept, it’s a physical experience of wholeness and completeness – and when we’re in integrity, our mind and body is at peace,” he says.

Image management leads to employees covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies and uncertainties.

“When you’re playing politics and not having a direct conversation, you’re out of integrity. When you’re covering up mental struggles, you’re out of integrity. When you’re avoiding having an honest conversation with somebody, you’re out of integrity,” Bunting says.

Giving the example of a leader he trained in Europe, who cited their leadership values as generosity and integrity, Bunting found the leader’s biggest behaviour challenge was conflict avoidance. So, he posed the question, “Are you aware that when you’re avoiding conflict, you’re out of integrity?” The leader, shocked, replied, “I’m being nice.” To which Bunting replied, “No, you’re not telling the truth.”

“So, people, when they’re out of integrity, they’re unaware that they’re out of integrity,” Bunting says. “And the journey to integrity is fierce and difficult – you must learn a whole new understanding of yourself.

“Two key things that happen with our executive leaders are, one: they assert that they are self-aware, and second: they assert that they live their values,” he says. “We say, ‘Can you describe the values you try to live, please?’ And they can’t. We say, ‘Can you practice self-awareness for the next ten minutes?’ and 99.9999% of our clients don’t know how to do it.”

The key, Bunting says, is, “We have to begin believing that integrity is a higher value to chase than approval.”

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