Leadership Integrity Ethics and Morals

There is much to discuss in the relationship between leadership, integrity, ethics and morals.  Many people have opinions on the meaning of the words and they way they're applied.  Jim Furr, of Tulsa Executive Events has written a series of articles titled Pointers in Proverbs making drawing relevant wisdom for living from the biblical text.  He connects leadership, integrity and ethics in an interesting way that I thought would start some discussion.  See what you think.

Pointers in Proverbs by Jim Furr

"Good leaders abhor wrongdoing of all kinds; sound leadership has a moral foundation." --Pr 16:12

After surveying over 75,000 people around the world and performing more than four hundred written case studies, James Kouzes and Barry Posner (The Leadership Challenge) identified the characteristics most desired in a leader. In virtually every survey, integrity was identified more often than any other trait.

No surprise here. Peter Drucker writes in The Effective Leader: "By themselves, integrity and character do not accomplish anything. But their absence faults everything else."

According to Steven Hayward in Churchill on Leadership, a Wharton School of Finance study of large corporations over a four-year period concluded that “between 15 percent and 25 percent[!!] of the variation in profitability was determined by the character of their chief executives.” “… sound leadership has a moral foundation.”


So what’s integrity? One study framed it in terms of ethics and morality. Ethics, they said, refers to our standard of right and wrong; it’s what we say we believe is right. Morality, on the other hand, is our lived standard of right and wrong; it’s what we actually do. “Integrity” means “complete,” “integrated.” To the degree, then, that our ethic and morality are integrated, we have integrity. To the degree that our ethic and morality are not integrated, we lack integrity.

Looking at this another way, if John tells you that he will lie, cheat and steal from you, he has a low ethic. If he does business that way, he also has a low morality. John is unethical and immoral, but he has integrity – twisted as it may be – because his morality is consistent with his ethic. Of course, when you and I think of integrity, we’re assuming a high ethic matched by an equally high morality.

Right Things

Most of us would probably agree that always acting with integrity can be a challenge. Norman Schwarzkopf made this observation: “The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

Several years ago, a friend who owned a certain professional sports franchise, although his team had just won the national championship, due to a failed TV contract found himself $10 million upside down. Many advised him to file for bankruptcy, but my friend’s ethic required that he pay his debts. It took him 11 years!

How does one develop this level of integrity? I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that it takes practice and hanging around the right kind of people. Stephen Graves and Thomas Addington put it this way in The Fourth Frontier: "Integrity is a character muscle we either develop or ignore. And it's rarely a last minute decision. It requires discipline. It comes from years of practice or, at the other extreme, years of neglect…Our integrity is shaped not only by our personal decisions, but also by the company we keep…Good character keeps good company."

Personal Observation

One other tip, if I may, that I’ve found helpful in developing integrity. The Bible says that God searches the earth in order to strengthen those who are totally committed to him (2 Chronicles 16:9). I’ve discovered that when my driving and guiding ambition is not simply to build a reputation, but to serve God and his people, then God lends his power to my efforts to have integrity, and that seems to make a significant difference.

Photo by Craig Damlo

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