When Integrity Leads the Way – How Hard Choices Create Opportunity

“We are here to add what we can to life, not to get what we can from life.”
William Osler

One of the things I love about my author job is that sometimes I need to do research. Lately, I’ve been doing just that. Working on my next book, I have been interviewing various entrepreneurs and business people on their own leadership journey as well as what they have observed in their companies and organizations. In addition to being able to connect with old friends and colleagues, I’ve also heard some interesting and amazing stories about the challenges and rewards of leadership. So many people work hard at it – even if they are not always able to achieve the results they expect.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with an old friend who has had a very successful career as a commercial lender. I asked him what had been on one of his greatest leadership challenges. He told me when a company’s top leaders are not aligned with the company mission, forgetting about the importance of customers and those employees who serve them.

I asked him to explain and he shared this story. He has done well over the past few years but it has not been without challenges. Starting with the great recession, low interest rates and a struggling economy made it difficult for some of the industries he served to expand and grow, thus reducing the quantity and quality of commercial loans to be made.

Undaunted, he saw trends outside of his company’s traditional lending market and started to explore new opportunities. Commercial lending is not something that changes quickly nor do relationships occur overnight. Eventually, he developed some key relationships with potential clients and finally crafted a large deal in this new market. Unfortunately, during this time, there was also a leadership change in his department and at the 11th hour, this deal was “put on hold” – effectively, it was terminated.

My friend told me that it was one of the hardest phone calls to a customer he ever made. Even though his new client indicated they wanted to wait until the loan could be approved, he started working with them to find a new lender. It was not in the best interest of his client to wait and he wanted to make sure they were successful – even if it was with another lender. So, he was honored and surprised when some time later that same client asked him to be on their Board of Directors.

“We still want to work with you, even if we can’t do business with you,” my friend was told. In the end, he said, being on the other side of the table taught him so much more on how to service these clients than he could have ever learned by just being their lender.

Fast forward to today and his knowledge of this industry has increased quite a bit. He has put together a number of the same type of deals that he was originally denied to do for that first client. His company has now also asked him to work on a team that would investigate the viability of expanding what he is doing locally across other regions.

How did this all happen? He said another change of leadership. This time he has someone who is more focused on the success of the customers and willing to listen to and support the employees who serve them. While this may be true, I also think it may be something else.

We often think of leadership with a capital “L”. But, in reality, it is the combined responses to the little challenges we face every day that reinforce who we are. It is those small moments of integrity and daily leadership tests that create big results showing others and ourselves who we are.

For my friend’s sake, I’m glad there is a happy ending. For him, going through this situation created quite a bit of internal turmoil and pain when he found himself out of alignment with his company. It wouldn’t have been an experience he would have faced if the original deal had gone through.

Acting within his integrity, he revisited his values and kept to his correct path. Because of this journey, combined with the leadership change at his company, he became the person who could, a few years later, lead an effort to service a new market. That opportunity only opened up because he willing to stay within his own integrity and grow because of the challenges he faced.

We are not always able to test ourselves in tough situations. But, many times, the process of doing so is really a gift. I believe even if this story ended differently for my friend – say with a new company or a career change – the path would have led to another ending that might have been different, but just as rewarding.

I urge you to remember my friend’s story the next time you face a similar challenge or obstacle. The opportunity you seek may just be on the other side of the growth you are willing to experience.