Leading with Integrity: The Cornerstone of Authentic Leadership

“Leading with Integrity: The Cornerstone of Authentic Leadership”


Leadership Series by Dean Eleanor Green

“Integrity is the essence of everything successful.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

I was raised in a household that placed a high value on honesty, and I’ve aimed to instill the same values in my own family and career. If you were to inquire, my adult children could share their experiences of being raised in an environment where errors were tolerated but dishonesty was not. I’m not going to reveal the identity of the child in this anecdote, but after a series of lies—each met with a discussion about the significance of honesty—I believed they had finally grasped the concept. Yet, I was met with another lie. Deeply let down, I contemplated the right approach to take. I tasked this child with writing an essay on the meaning of trust and the consequences of losing it, telling them that I’d determine their punishment after reading it. Their response moved me to tears. It was evident from their heartfelt and insightful writing that they truly understood the concepts of truth and trust. Punishment was no longer necessary; instead, I felt a profound sense of pride in their maturity and clear grasp of integrity as expressed through their words.

It is one thing to profess integrity and another to live it, especially during tempting situations. On a memorable Friday in our veterinary practice, an entire family showed up to board their treasured dog for a week. This was a wonderful family with numerous foster children and this dog was the center of their universe. They spent 30 minutes capturing this memory by taking photos at the clinic before they extracted their kids from dog hugs. The very next day, one of the weekend technicians opened this dog’s cage door and then the door to the outside runs, but the dog escaped at a dead run through outside gate of the runs that is typically locked.  We were devastated. We searched high and low all day every day. The entire town helped with the search and there were daily sightings. The following Saturday, we succeeded in catching the canine fugitive. Surprisingly, she was in very good shape to return to her owners the next day. A bath was all that was needed. The entire family arrived in a group to reunite with their dog. Before they arrived, we had a discussion with the entire clinic about the importance of integrity in all we do. We openly disclosed the events of the week to the family, resulting in anger without understanding. Sometime later they did express appreciation for our being forthright when we did not have to be and we secured a faithful client.

I do believe “integrity is the essence of everything successful;” in fact, integrity is the first step to greatness. It is essential to face the truth and do the right thing because it is right. It takes a lifetime to build trust and only an instant to lose it. I have always believed that truth wins out in the end, even though the end can seem to take a long time. Honesty and integrity are always rewarded, even if not immediately.

One of my favorite quotes is, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters,” by Alan K. Simpson. I have used this philosophy repeatedly in my leadership roles. The second sentence of this quote is particularly pertinent, especially in recruitment and retention of team members. One cannot generate enough cases or income for a hospital, bring in enough research dollars, publish enough refereed publications, or have enough charisma to overcome a lack of integrity. A healthy culture of integrity is the cornerstone of effective leadership. Building that culture in an organization or one’s home ensures a solid foundation for achievement with long term benefits.

Who is responsible for a culture of integrity? Everyone; however, culture starts at the top. When leaders demonstrate integrity in their words and actions, they set a positive example for others to emulate. Leaders serve as role models for their teams. By upholding high ethical standards, leaders create a culture where integrity is valued and expected from everyone within the organization.

These sound like nice words but imagine for a moment working in an organization in which people consistently act with honesty, transparency, and ethical principles. Imagine the peace, fulfillment, loyalty, and empowerment that result from mutual trust, reliability, and open communication. Imagine being able to express ideas and concerns within an ethos of receptivity without reprisal. Now imagine working in an organization without integrity or transparency, where people distrust each other, where people do not take responsibility for their actions, where blame follows failures, where you are asked to cover up mistakes. Where would you rather work? In conclusion, integrity is not just a desirable trait in leadership, it is crucial for success.


Eleanor Green

Dr. Eleanor Green is the Founding Dean of Lyon College of Veterinary Medicine. She is a Diplomate of ACVIM and ABVP. She received a BS in Animal Science from the University of Florida and a DVM from Auburn University.

She established a veterinary practice in Mississippi as partner/owner. She became a founding faculty member of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University. Her academic appointments have included: equine faculty member at University of Missouri; head of Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and director of large animal hospital at the University of Tennessee; chair of Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and Chief of Staff of large animal hospital at the University of Florida. She served as president of three national organizations: American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, American Association of Veterinary Clinicians.

Her awards include: 2004 Award of Distinction from UF College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, 2011 Wilford S. Bailey Distinguished Alumni Award from Auburn, 2012 Women ‘s Progress Award for Administration and 2015 Distinguished Achievement Award for Administration at Texas A&M, and induction into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2013.

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