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Coaching Great Leaders
Demonstrating Integrity: A Key Characteristic of the Future Global Leader

By Marshall Goldsmith

At a time when shredding documents, creative accounting and ruthless tactics come to light in the media on a fairly regular basis, it's no surprise that the young leaders of today have spotted the need for leaders to demonstrate integrity and ethical behavior. As a matter of fact, young leaders of today believe that demonstrating integrity will become the most important characteristic of future leaders.1

What Is Integrity?
"Integrity is the quality of possessing and adhering to high moral principles or professional standards."2 In other words, it's not enough to simply espouse values; global leaders have the added responsibility of influencing through example.

Indeed, events in the business arena involving companies such as Enron and WorldCom have illustrated how integrity lapses can lead even "benchmark companies" into bankruptcy. These unfortunate negative public examples of integrity violations have clearly made the business case for including integrity as a key quality of the leader of the future.

Demonstrating Integrity
The next question you will probably have is: How do I (or do I already) demonstrate integrity? Following are five significant characteristics of demonstrating integrity as well as some (but not all!) actions you can take to demonstrate integrity.3

One characteristic that demonstrates integrity is to behave honestly and practice ethical behavior in your interactions. You can accomplish this by:

  • Recognizing that you are a model for those whom you lead
  • Being consistent and clear about your ethical standards
  • Providing facts, not smokescreens
  • Speaking up even when it may be risky to do so
  • Challenging any system that encourages dishonesty or rewards unethical behavior

A second characteristic that demonstrates integrity is to ensure that the highest standards for ethical behavior are practiced throughout the organization. You can do this by:

  • Being consistent and clear about ethical standards and expectations
  • Encouraging people to express concerns about questionable practices
  • Reviewing ethical concerns with your staff or management
  • Offering open, candid feedback to management and coworkers
  • Recognizing that honesty and fairness in all relations with others is important

A third characteristic that demonstrates integrity is to avoid political and self-serving behavior. You can demonstrate this by:

  • Understanding that being competent in your job is the most effective method of achieving success
  • Realizing that organizational politics take many forms; list the tactics you are aware of
  • Sharing recognition; not accepting undue credit
  • Being a team player
  • Combating job politics through objective measurements of performance

A fourth characteristic that demonstrates integrity is to courageously stand up for what you believe in. You can do this by:

  • Understanding that risk taking plays a part in nearly every decision made
  • Being willing to take risks to achieve excellence and stay competitive
  • Developing a positive attitude when facing objections
  • Working to gain support and cooperation from key individuals in your organization
  • Encouraging and supporting others to speak up and voice their viewpoints

The fifth characteristic that demonstrates integrity is to be a role model for living the organization's values. You can accomplish this by:

  • Walking the talk: be an example of what you want your employees to be
  • Being sure your performance reflects the best standards
  • Acknowledging the unique knowledge and talents of others
  • Demonstrating pride in your company
  • Coaching employees to follow your example of performing to high standards

People will not follow leaders whom they do not trust. Great leaders, trusted leaders demonstrate integrity and in doing so, achieve the faith and confidence of their workers, colleagues and peers, who then become willing followers, loyal employees and trusted coworkers. This important characteristic is an integral step on the road to success for the great leaders of the future.


1 Goldsmith, M., et al. 2003. Global Leadership: The Next Generation. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. (See pages 311-316 for more about the Global Leader of the Future Project.)
2 Encarta Dictionary [computer software]. 2008. Redmond, WA: Microsoft
3 Goldsmith, M., et al. 2003. Global Leadership: The Next Generation. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Marshall Goldsmith, MBA, PhD, founder of Marshall Goldsmith Partners LLC, is a world authority on helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting behavioral change. His executive coaching expertise has been highlighted in Forbes, Fast Company and Business Week. The most recent of his 22 books is What Got You Here Won't Get You There (Hyperion, 2007). Learn more about Marshall in the WABC Coach Directory. Marshall can be reached by email at Marshall@MarshallGoldsmith.com,



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