Do your senior leaders have integrity?


While most organisations share an expectation that their senior leaders should be good at Persuasive Communication, Strategic Thinking, and Leading Change, less frequently stated is the need for leaders to demonstrate Integrity.

A brief scan of recent news stories shows that leader integrity should not be assumed. Some examples include:

  • Senior managers who have lied about their skills and employment history
  • Senior leaders that have favoured family members with access to opportunities
  • Researchers who have massaged their data to achieve significant results
  • Managers have submitted false invoices to gain money from their employers
  • Senior managers have accepted bribes from vendors

The impact of these actions can range from damage to an organisation’s external reputation, internal reputation (with staff), and organisational performance (finances, safety, quality, etc). There are other indirect costs relating to time and stress dealing with misconduct. From Voice Project research we also know that when staff view an organisation as either less ethical, or where leaders are perceived as poor role models, that staff engagement tends to be lower.

Integrity is not simply having high personal standards, it also involves acting when you see misconduct on the part of others. This element of acting on misconduct can be difficult and has some risks for the person who reports it. Indeed, research shows that many whistle blowers experience workplace bullying after reporting issues. Given this, organisations need to encourage transparent cultures where employees are supported when they raise concerns about misconduct. As with most organisational initiatives, senior managers should take the lead in role modelling these behaviours.

Embedding Integrity

There are ten key ways organisations can support and encourage high standards of integrity.

  1. Organisational value statements - highlight the organisation’s commitment to ethical standards to current and prospective employees.
  2. Leadership capability frameworks - define for leaders the behaviour that is expected. Some positive behaviours that should be expected of leaders include:
    • Demonstrating high standards of professional conduct
    • Treating people fairly
    • Encouraging others to meet high ethical standards
    • Acting when values and standards are breached
  3. Promote a Code of Conduct that clearly articulates what integrity looks like in practice / in the context of your organisation.
  4. Assess Integrity during Selection – it can be difficult to assess integrity in selection processes, as most people are trying to create a good impression. Nevertheless, adopting some basic techniques can be helpful:
    • Promote organisational values (including integrity) to prospective employees to help attract the best people.
    • Check basic details in resumes.
    • Competency-Based Interviewing. Seek past examples which demonstrate how they have managed themselves or others.
  5. Encourage ongoing feedback – both within teams and through organisational surveys to give employees a voice and encourage an open and transparent culture.
  6. Demonstrate a commitment to performance management – supporting managers to act when they identify poor performance or misconduct. An effective performance management system also enables minor behaviours to be addressed before they have the potential to escalate to serious misconduct.
  7. Use regular 360s – to help reinforce the behaviours expected of leaders. This also encourages accountability when leaders know that peers, reports and managers will provide feedback on their performance.
  8. Compliance and monitoring systems – a review of financial reporting can often identify problems that would otherwise be hard to detect (e.g. overcharging or misreporting).
  9. Clear processes for confidentially reporting concerns about misconduct.
  10. Actively attempt to prevent and address bullying, as bullying behaviour is often used to control information and cover up unethical practices e.g. fraud.

It is impossible to ensure that all employees will behave with integrity. Nevertheless, the ten steps outlined above will help provide clear expectations about the standards required, and ensure that HR processes emphasis integrity through selection, performance management and development processes. The benefits that flow from improvements in integrity are likely to be felt throughout the organisation.

How have you tried to embed integrity in organisations? Please leave your comments below.

Useful Resources:


  • Bjerkelo, B. (2013). Workplace bullying after whistleblowing: future research and implications. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 28(3), 306-323.
  • Kiel, F. (2015). Leadership. Measuring the return on character. Harvard Business Review, April, 20-21.
  • Wilde, J. (2014). Building cultures of transparency and openness. In L. Tate, E. Donaldson-Feilder, K. Tech, B. Hug & G. Everest (Eds.), Implementing culture change within the NHS: Contributions from Occupational Psychology (pp.64-72). Leicester: British Psychological Society.