How To (and How Not To) Assess the Integrity of Managers (19 pages)
showing that this method identifies few managers with potential integrity issues and does not
distinguish high- from low-performing managers. We then propose an alternative method based on
subordinate expectations regarding the likelihood that their managers would misbehave. Next we
report a study of the ability of this method to identify managers with potential integrity issues and
predict indices of effective leadership. Finally, we discuss the practical implications of our analysis
and recommend that the leadership field pay greater attention to managerial misconduct.
Integrity and Related Concepts
One can distinguish between integrity, ethics, morals, and character, but the way these terms are
normally used suggests they are similar. For example, the Oxford Dictionary contains the following
definitions: (1) integrity (n.d.), “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles;” (2)
ethics (n.d.), “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior;” (3) morals (n.d.),
“standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable to do;” and (4) character
(n.d.), “a person’s good reputation.” Because these terms are used to define each other, they are
roughly synonymous (cf. Ciulla, 2004). We use the terms integrity, ethics, and character inter-
changeably in this article.
The study of ethics is the traditional province of philosophers. Ethics refers to the values and
behaviors that society defines as desirable and that provide the rules for judging actions as “good or
bad” (Pojman, 1995). Northouse (2006) noted two types of ethical theories relevant to leadership,
those that focus on conduct and those that focus on character. From the conduct perspective, the
actions of a leader can be judged by their consequences—for instance, Bentham’s utilitarianism
favors actions that produce the “greatest good for the greatest many”— or by their compliance with
moral rules—for example, Kant’s view of duty as the obligation to do the right thing. From the
character perspective, a leader’s conduct is determined by the kind of person he or she is. For
example, Aristotle defined maturity in terms of developing a good character which comes from
practice (e.g., by telling the truth, one develops the virtue of honesty). Ethical behavior, in other
words, is a developed disposition or character trait.
Most moral philosophies assume that ethics and integrity concern one’s relationships with other
people. Violations of ethics typically involve harming others (Ciulla, 2004; Northouse, 2006).
Lying, cheating, and stealing represent attempts to advance one’s self-interest while ignoring the
rights of other people. Conversely, leaders who display integrity seem concerned about the welfare
of others (Brown & Trevino, 2006).
The term integrity can be used in two distinct ways, and each requires clarification. The first
refers to honesty; although this involves playing by the rules, it is different from following the
rules—it is more like “fair play.” People sometimes use rules in order to harm others, whereas fair
play may require setting the rules aside in cases where people will be victimized by them. Further,
analyses of recent corporate ethical failures note that although certain practices were within the letter
of the law, they were nonetheless unethical (Jennings, 2006).
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the second use of the term integrity (n.d.) is “the state of
being whole and undivided”—for instance, consistency between words and actions. We think
integrity is best understood as a moral attribution that we place on another person’s conduct rather
than a statement about the consistency of that person’s words and actions. Adolph Hitler illustrates
this point: as the German Chancellor, there was “wholeness” and “unity” between his anti-Semitic
rhetoric and his political actions. But most observers judge his behavior immoral. Like beauty,
integrity is in the eyes of the beholder.
Our view of leadership differs from the view of leadership as a position, which assumes that if
someone is in charge of something, then by definition that person is a leader. In contrast, we view
leadership from the perspective of human origins and see it as a resource for group survival (Van
SPECIAL ISSUE: HOW TO ASSESS INTEGRITY