XPG Insights

Staffing industry recruiting news, advice and thought leadership.

XPG Insights

Staffing industry recruiting news, advice and thought leadership.

Site Search

The I’s of Leadership

It’s an old joke: there is no “I” in team. But John Baldoni, writing for Smart Brief on Leadership, says that leadership should include three I’s: Integrity, Intellect, and Inclusion. 

Especially, he writes, if you’re considering someone for a leadership promotion, these are the qualities you should look for.  

Integrity includes honesty, of course. You must be able to trust that someone says what they mean and means what they say. You must be able to trust them to do the right thing, even when – make that especially when – no one is looking.  

Integrity also has other meanings. In engineering, structural integrity is the ability of an item—either a structural component or a structure consisting of many components—to hold together under a load, including its own weight, without breaking or deforming excessively. A leader with integrity will continue to be true to their values under pressure. In good times and bad, they hold themselves to the same standard. 

The byproduct of integrity is trust. In my book Relentless, Leading Through Performance, Relationships, and the Lessons of Sports, we list trust as one of our non-negotiables. Trust: the ability to have faith in others. You need people who tell the truth, people you know you can believe, and people who will believe what you say. And as part of that two-way relationship, you have to believe that the other person always has your best interests at heart. It takes time to develop true trust, but the willingness to be honest about mistakes and failures along with the willingness to follow others speak to one’s ability to trust.” 

Intellect is listed below integrity for a reason, in our opinion. John Baldoni writes, “You have to have smarts to lead others. …Intellect is the ability to reason, to use logic to cipher the issues dispassionately. Intellect, in a broader sense, is … the ability to know how the world works. It requires an ability to read people, to ascertain what they want and why they want it. Leaders need to be savvy, to separate the unimportant from the important and focus on what matters most to accomplish things.” 

Intellect is about knowing things, and in our opinion, is also being open to knowing what you don’t know. A smart leader knows it’s impossible to have all the answers; they don’t even try. They figure out how to hire the best talent they can and trust them to figure out what to do next.  

Truly smart people don’t ever close themselves off from the ideas of other smart people. Legendary coach John Wooden once said, “Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.” It takes enormous courage to stand and be told that you might be wrong – and even more courage to change course when you are. 

Inclusion is more than the current definition – making sure your team is diverse in the ways you can see. Baldoni writes that it’s not enough to include people – you should also make sure they have a seat at the table.  

We agree that diversity of viewpoint and experience makes every team stronger. But in the end, it’s not their differences that matter; it’s their common commitment to the company’s goals, mission, and culture that makes a team unbeatable.  


Have the courage to hire people who will challenge you! 

Let’s talk about good hiring. I don’t mean the how—I want to focus here on the who. Good hiring creates a diverse and balanced team that can also build enough trust to work together effectively. 

You want to avoid groupthink, where everyone pats each other on the back and tells each other how great they are because the person next to you is just like you. The truth is you want some disagreements, challenges to the status quo, and new ideas of how to do things differently, and better. 

Diversity of color, origin, or gender is important because we’ve had different experiences. The experiences we have shape our worldview and give us different ideas about what we know to be true. When you don’t have enough diversity on your team, you wind up with a group of people with the same assumptions of what we know to be true. 

Dr. Ruby Payne calls these assumptions “the hidden rules of class,” and says they’re one of the biggest barriers to success and upward mobility for minorities. When you set out to diversify your workforce, you also bring in people who can challenge the assumptions of the majority and create a healthier and more open culture.15F15F15F[1] 

So good hiring is about making sure you’re finding and retaining the best talent available and creating a team that together is stronger and smarter than the sum of their parts. Here are some additional types of diversity to consider: 

  • Diversity in age and length of experience—you want a balance of company or industry knowledge and fresh thinking from new blood. 
  • Diversity of life experience and background helps your team develop empathy, learn to communicate better, and come up with improved solutions to challenges. 
  • Diversity of personality, including introverts, extroverts, optimists, pessimists, people with different levels of comfort with risk, and people with different interests and passions. 
  • Diversity in work and thinking styles: analytical, intuitive, conventional, and unorthodox—their individual ways of thinking and approaching problems can contribute to more and bigger breakthroughs. 
  • Diversity in value systems: again, this helps build empathy and helps your team go deeper in conversations about what matters most. Results versus relationships, short-term versus long-term strategies, how we treat our customers and one another. 


Value different viewpoints 

Jack Welsh, the legendary CEO of GE, believed that a diverse leadership team made the company better. He practiced what he preached: in 2000, near the end of Welch’s twenty-year tenure as CEO, women, minorities, and non-U.S. citizens made up twenty-two percent of GE’s officers and twenty-nine percent of its senior executives. By 2005, those numbers had increased to thirty-four percent and forty percent respectively. 

True diversity means things could get considerably livelier when you have a decision to make, and not all leaders welcome hard truths and frank discussion. Michael J. Berthelot, Natasha Lasensky, and Paul Somers, writing for boardmember.com, discussed lessons learned from GE’s leadership transition from Jack Welsh to Jeff Immelt. (The company lost $449 billion in shareholder value during Immelt’s tenure.) 

One big difference in their leadership styles was their tolerance for confrontation and disagreement. They write, “One way to avoid groupthink and cognitive dissonance is to encourage respectful confrontation, at both the management and board levels. It is more important that all relevant information be presented fairly than for the CEO (or anyone else) to be the smartest person in the room. Welch encouraged confrontation while Immelt promoted consensus.”16F16F16F[2] 

The authors recommend “appointing a devil’s advocate to argue the negatives to a transaction so that all board members will have access to different perspectives and viewpoints before a decision is made. Rotating the devil’s advocate position amongst board members depersonalizes any conflict that may arise from the process.”17F17F17F[3] (In my experience, playing devil’s advocate is a delicious role for most people, so feel free to try this technique with your team.) 

My favorite example of valuing contrary viewpoints is President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was the first Republican president but became so with less than fifty percent of the vote because he ran against three opponents. When he built his cabinet, he appointed all three of those adversaries. He wanted strong leaders and the views of all the people to be represented. He understood the importance of having different opinions to represent the views of those whom he was serving. He also knew that it would sharpen his own thinking and make him stronger through understanding the different viewpoints. 


About the Author:

Rich Thompson, CEO of XPG Recruit, is an expert on staffing, human resources, training and leadership development.  He is also a former All-Big Ten football player for the University of Wisconsin.  XPG Recruit provides recruiting for staffing companies.  The XPG Recruit Athlete division places former athletes into business careers and works closely with universities through its sister company, Podium X.

For more about what we believe are the foundational skills of leadership, here is a related excerpt from my book, “RELENTLESS: Leading Through Performance, Relationships, and the Lessons of Sports.”  


[1] Ruby K Payne “Poverty Series Part I: Understanding and Working with Students and Adults from Poverty,” Aha! Process, Inc., 2003, https://www.ahaprocess.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Understanding-Poverty-Ruby-Payne-Poverty-Series-I-IV.pdf 
[2] Michael Berthelot, Natasha Lasensky, and Paul Somers, “The Board’s Role in Monitoring Strategy: Lessons Learned from General Electric,” boardmember.com, 2019, https://www.corpgov.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/GE-The-Boards-Role-in-Monitoring-Strategy-Lessons-Learned-from-GE-Berthelot-Lasensky-Somers-1-14-2019.pdf. 
[3] Berthelot, Lasensky, and Somers, “The Board’s Role in Monitoring Strategy.”