High-integrity leaders crucial to an organization’s success

By: Barbara Bowes

There have certainly been a few eye-catching newspaper headlines lately that have served to fuel our feelings of cynicism about leadership integrity, especially on the political scene. On both the local and national scene, we’ve been exposed to a perception of self-serving power and influence arising from deep-rooted friendships as well as back-room political manipulations used in an attempt to discard individuals who are perceived as a risk.


Yet, situations involving the loss of integrity are not only found in the political arena, they also occur in our business environments, perhaps more frequently than we would like to admit.


You may recall the famous collapse of the financial empire created by Bernard Madoff, who was found to be an investment fraud artist. As well, the collapse of U.S.-based Enron Corp., a leader in energy, natural gas, communications and pulp and paper with more than 20,000 employees, is not far from our memories. The leadership at Enron was found to have systematically engaged in accounting fraud and corruption, which was supported by the Arthur Anderson accounting and consulting firm. Both went bankrupt while key leaders headed to prison.

While most leaders don’t engage in fraudulent behaviour, I’ve encountered many individuals who live on what I call the “grey edge.” In other words, while they aren’t engaging in anything illegal, their behaviour, in my view, can be considered unethical. And it only takes one more step to cross the line. A perception of unethical behaviour also creates a sense of mistrust and a loss of integrity. People simply lose respect for this type of leader.

Yet, what exactly is integrity? Integrity is defined as the consistency between what a leader says and what the leader does. It’s an alignment between a person’s values, beliefs, words and actions, as well as the extent to which promises are kept. Integrity is also perceived to be closely related to honesty, trustworthiness and fairness and is frequently thought to be a measure of good moral character.

Finally, integrity is judged by how closely the leader’s behaviour and actions are consistent with the moral frameworks of a community and/or organization.

However, one might question why it is so important for our leaders to demonstrate integrity. First of all, individuals don’t like uncertainty, and since they are speculating on a leader’s achievements in the future, they need some way with which to make a decision. Secondly, especially for newcomer leaders, there is little information on an individual’s proven skills with which to make decisions. Thirdly, most people are apprehensive of the future and are afraid of being exploited or excluded at some point. Therefore, people frequently make the decision to follow someone by assessing personal integrity.

People want a leader who practises what he or she preaches, who follows through on promises and who “walks the talk.” Once individuals are satisfied with their personal assessment, they’ll make a decision as to whom they will trust, to whom they will be loyal and how hard they’ll work for their selected leader.

Therefore, since people judge integrity by the consistency, credibility and reliability of a leader’s behaviour, how do we know it when we see it? The following descriptors will assist you to confirm your perceptions of integrity.

1. Continuous Personal Growth: Leaders with high levels of integrity are in constant learning mode. They are ruthlessly honest with themselves, seek guidance to discover and work around their blind spots and are always learning and growing as leaders.

2. A promise is a promise: High-integrity leaders keep their promises, and if they can’t meet the agreed-upon timeline, they will stay in communication with you until the promise has been kept.

3. Reliability: Just as we purchase proven brands, leaders who are shown to be reliable and can be counted on will attract more followers. Reliable leaders stick with problems and issues until they are resolved from a win/win point of view and a strong consideration for all stakeholders involved.

4. Accountability: High-integrity leaders don’t just blame others and/or take the blame themselves, they own the situation and all of its outcomes. These leaders quickly intervene in an issue, evaluate unintended impact, take steps to rectify the situation and stay in close communication with stakeholders until the job is done.

5. Responsiveness: There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for a leader to respond to your query. High-integrity leaders are good time managers and will either respond immediately and/or will inform you when they can get back to your issue. If the situation is a crisis, they will be there for you.

6. Doing the right thing: High-integrity leaders have strong moral principles. You can count on them do the right thing, at the right time and for all the right reasons. These leaders have high personal standards and hold their team members and their corporation to the same high standards. They then assess each decision and action against their organizational standards.

7. Respectfulness: Respect is earned and is done so by showing respect and an acceptance toward others. Respecting others means understanding different values and beliefs, recognizing, accepting and developing the skills of others and including all employees as part of the team. Respect also means communicating and interacting with individuals by putting them on the same playing field.

8. Accessibility: High-integrity leaders are physically present and make themselves available and accessible to their staff. They interact with and invite employees to share their issues; they are always available to stop and listen.

9. Transparency: High-integrity leaders ensure their actions are “seen” as trustworthy and create a sense of certainty rather than uncertainty. They exhibit openness with respect to information, finances and various operational transactions and business dealings. When examined by others, their actions lead to trusting relationships.

Whether a single lapse of integrity or as a continuous way of doing business, unethical, non-integrity leadership behaviour not only has the power to ruin a career, but it has the power to totally destroy an organization. When integrity is destroyed, confidence goes by the wayside and may never ever return. Unfortunately, there are often more people hurt than can be imagined; just ask the 20,000 Enron staff who suddenly lost their job through no fault of their own.

Source: Why does Leader Integrity Matter to Followers? An Uncertainty Management Explanation, Robert H. Moorman, Creighton University, (US) and Steven Grover, University of Otago, New Zealand, International Journal of Leadership Studies, vol. 5 Issue 2, 2009.


About the Author: Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of Resume Rescue and Taming the Workplace Tigers. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com. Learn more at www.barbarabowes.com.

The stock markets might be soaring as both Canadian and American economies recover; however, the turnover rates among chief executive officers are also continuing to soar. In fact, according to a recent poll, executive turnover jumped to 32.3%, the highest in several years. I agree that some turnover is due to retirements, but others are due to resignations.

While some resignations and/or terminations are due to leadership scandals, the majority of resignations at the CEO level are similar to any other resignation. In other words, the CEO and their board may feel there is no longer a fit for this individual in their organization. The talents they offer are not the talents needed to move the company forward to success in this new economy.

The challenge for organizations then is how do you go about finding the right leader for the right job at the right time? Then again, how do you keep them?


Believe me, it’s not a matter of simply searching for a good candidate. It’s a matter of making certain preferred individuals are indeed the “right” candidate. Therefore, the real challenge before having any candidate sign on the dotted line for employment, is ensuring you have applied a rigorous executive search process and taken as much time as is needed in order to make the right decision.


The starting point of any search process is to define the selection criteria. My strategy is to meet with a search committee, interview senior management and come to consensus on the “must have’s”, the “nice to have’s” and the “I can live with this” selection criteria. These criteria are then compared to the organizational vision, the market requirements and the internal culture to determine if any new criteria should be added or others given less emphasis.

A second step in the criteria selection process is work with the committee to determine specific examples of workplace behavior and experience they would like to see in their candidates. This information rounds out the picture of a successful candidate and provides food for thought with respect to developing interview questions.


The entire selection criteria process requires time consuming and rigorous debate so that all factors are thoroughly examined and consensus amongst the decision makers is achieved. Only then will you be ready to go to market to source out qualified candidates.

The list of selection criteria provides the framework and the tools for identifying and qualifying candidates that might be suitable to your organization. It is the filter through which all candidates are assessed. Selection checklists are prepared, screening and face-to-face interviews are directly linked to the selection criteria and used in candidate discussions. Slowly and carefully, candidates are screened and vetted until there is a set of 3-5 candidates who may be worthy of a presentation to the selection committee itself.

Without an effective selection criteria process, the search committee may misjudge an exceptional candidate who will then unfortunately slip through the cracks. At the same time, there are other individuals with excellent communication skills who may appear to be the cream of the crop but are not. Instead, they are simply good at camouflaging their weaknesses in such a way that it is difficult to assess.

While I have taken time to emphasize that time must be taken to ensure the right selection criteria are set, once these are in place, time then becomes an issue. In other words, the search process must progress in a steady manner over an 8-12 week timeframe in order to ensure the continued interest of potential candidates.

There is nothing more frustrating than putting all the right steps in place and then losing good candidates because the recruitment process itself is not efficiently carried out and/or stalls altogether. The solution to this issue is to ensure everyone is ready to proceed and that personal calendars are cleared in order for key stakeholders to be involved in the final processes.

Spending time on developing the selection criteria for a successful candidate is a rigorous and systematic process. If followed effectively, the process will result in the hiring of a successful candidate who will best meet your needs and will invigorate your organization to reach its goals.

Source: 2014 January: CEO Turnover Soars 32 Percent As Year Starts – Challenger & Christmas


Nina Disesa

Ballentyne Books

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Disesa is a “been there, done that” lady who has successfully clawed her way to the top of a renowned advertising agency in New York. Her story is one of a hard hitting, crafty leader who refuses to be toppled by the battle ready male tactics she encounters. Instead, her strategy of seduction and manipulation, which she calls “S&M”, is a combination of psychology, mothering and stubbornness. All 220 pages are full of real examples of personal success, failure and advice. While the book is directed to women, men should read it to at least learn how silly their power antics really are.