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True mark of leadership: Integrity

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Al Bolea, 59, has enjoyed an exciting career in the oil and gas industry.

He was CEO of Dubai Petroleum and a longtime executive at British Petroleum.

Today, Bolea runs Applied ­Leadership Seminars in Big Lake, Alaska. In addition to leading seminars, he’s also a lecturer at the Uni­­versity of Houston’s Bauer School of Business.

EL: What’s the key takeaway in your leadership seminars?

Bolea: We’re taught that great ­leaders are born. But it’s by their behaviors that they lead. What we become, we become through our behaviors. That’s how we create our potential.

EL: What behaviors make great ­leaders?

Bolea: Integrity is so essential. People will only follow someone who has integrity.

EL: But integrity seems like such a vague, hard-to-measure concept.

Bolea: In one of my former jobs when I was an executive at an oil company, I was put in a position where I had to compromise things by a thousand cuts, like safety and spill prevention. I resigned. It was a very high-paying job. And it was very difficult to walk away from a great team.

EL: So you left with your head held high.

Bolea: Losing your integrity is a life­­long loss. Take Tiger Woods. His entire life was built around perfection and integrity of the game. He had an unfortunate incident in his life. Now his integrity is gone.

EL: You’re a fan of the “As If” Principle. Please explain.

Bolea: This princi­ple was established more than 100 years ago. If you want to be smart, act like you’re smart. If you want to be something, act like you have that something. It’s the act that creates the aspiration. The act of behavior creates mental models in your brain to become that. If you repeat a behavior three times, you’ve started building that behavior.  

EL: Can you give an example?

Bolea:  When I was 29, I was an analyst for a big oil company. I was in a meeting. The CEO was a screamer, and he decided that he was going to challenge me. I was frightened. I wasn’t a particularly ­courageous person. But at that moment, I acted like I was a courageous person. My knees were shaking under the table. But outwardly, I faked having courage. He kept coming at me. And I kept calmly responding to him.

EL: What happened?

Bolea: I got through it. The meeting ended. Ten minutes later, he comes into my office and says, “Nice job, Bolea. You showed a lot of courage in there.”

EL: So you weren’t intimidated.

Bolea: When you’re dealing with someone like that, don’t mimic a screamer. Try to influence your boss by having a calm conversation. Put your issue on the table. Present your case. Eventually, a screamer will sit back and admire your integrity.

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