What happens at the intersection of trust, integrity and personal accountability? Leadership!

It isn’t uncommon for the terms “trust,” “integrity,” and “personal accountability” to be used individually when describing the characteristics of “great” leaders. It also is not unusual to “train” them as separate ideas. Rarely are they viewed as connected and interdependent. But in fact, you cannot employ one without the other. The story of the great golf player, Bobby Jones, illustrates this intersection very well.

The Leadership of Bobby Jones

Although he was considered to be one of history’s greatest golfers, what he was most famous for is what happened in the 1925 U.S. Open. During the game, he inadvertently touched his ball and assessed himself a one-stroke penalty (demonstrating personal accountability), even though no one else saw him touch the ball (showing integrity). By assessing himself that penalty (a demonstration of self-trust), he lost the Open by that one stroke.

Jones could have won the tournament, but he would have violated his conscience (trust in self), and sacrificed his integrity and personal accountability. Winning the U.S. Open wasn’t worth a one-stroke penalty on these. Upon further research, I discovered that was not the only time he personified these three ideals. He did it a second time, according to Wikipedia, AND went on to win the championship.

We live in a culture that celebrates leaders who display these characteristics and “trains” employees to emulate them without realizing two fundamental truths.

  1. These attributes do not exist in a vacuum – they are directly related to each other. Bobby Jones’ actions began with self-trust - believing he was born to have an impact in life beyond himself. This compelled him to act from a set of moral and ethical principles (integrity), including acknowledging his error without feeling guilty, blaming or finding fault, and then imposing a consequence - the one-stroke penalty (accountability).

  2. These traits already reside in each person. They may not have been exercised yet because a situation has not warranted it. In Bobby Jones’ case, it did and he employed them. Training leaders and employees on how to develop trust, have integrity and be accountable without being faced with a situation to naturally call these traits into play can be counterproductive. Providing training when required of the job is important BUT coaching individuals to understand that these traits reside in them and can be called upon at any given moment will reap a greater reward. They will not have to remember a set of steps to act on AND they will always remember the experience.

Eventually, training loses its strength and depreciates over time. Self-trust, integrity and personal accountability do not. Imagine how different organizational cultures would be if each person trusted themselves, operated at a level of integrity congruent with their self-trust, and when things worked or didn’t work, accepted accountability freely. Organizations and their employees would thrive!

Patricia Russell, President and CEO of The Russell Consulting Group, disrupts commonly held beliefs about leadership and cultures to accelerate organizational value. She coaches individuals to embrace who they are as human beings and use that knowledge to benefit themselves and their organizations. Ms. Russell lives in Park City, Utah.