Both anecdotal and empirical evidence points to the clear connection between leaders’ integrity and organizational success. However, numerous studies that address integrity demonstrate the confusion surrounding the many facets of that concept. Palanski and Yammarino, for instance, surveyed considerable literature and concluded: “Everyone seems to want integrity from their leaders, but…there appears to be great confusion about what it is or how to foster it.”1 They point out that progress in understanding how to promote leader integrity has been hindered by “too many definitions, too little theory, and too few rigorous studies.”2 They illustrate no fewer than ten distinct meanings that have been ascribed to the word “integrity,” and then propose a solution to best advance our practical and theoretical understanding of this important leader characteristic. They suggest that we consider integrity as alignment between words and actions—that is, promise-keeping and enactment of espoused values. This notion of integrity is one of an “adjunctive virtue,” one that, like courage, is not inherently morally good or bad. To take a negative example, one can show integrity by promising great harm and then delivering on that promise. However, like courage, integrity is necessary for the achievement of “moral uprightness,” which is why we usually think of these two attributes in a positive way.
Simons, T., Schnaubelt, K., Longstreet, J., Sarkisian, M., Allen, H., & Feltman, C. (2016). Executive insights on leader integrity: The credibility challenge. Cornell Hospitality Report, 16(5), 3-15.