Work Culture

The Importance of Moral Integrity in Leadership

By on August 4, 2019

What is Moral Integrity?

Moral integrity is doing the right thing when nobody’s watching.

We know what is right and wrong, and we choose to do the right thing. Doing the right thing when it’s the easiest or the most profitable isn’t what matters, though. When things are easy, anyone can appear to have a backbone. It’s the hard times that matter.

When doing the wrong thing has a pot of gold at the end, or when doing the right thing might end up hurting you, that’s when the moral integrity of that person reveals itself. Having the courage to follow what we believe in our hearts is right is what moral integrity means, and it’s something that teams crave in their company leadership.

What is Moral Integrity in Leadership?

Moral integrity in leadership is a cornerstone of ethical conduct and moral decision-making. It includes the commitment in upholding moral values and doing what is right, even when faced with challenges or temptations. 

Leaders with moral integrity lead by example and consistently demonstrate accountability, transparency, and fairness. They take responsibility for their actions, readily admit mistakes, and prioritize the well-being of others above personal gain. 

Integrity in leadership is not limited to words; it is reflected in actions. Leaders with moral integrity align their behavior with their stated values, fostering a culture of trust and respect within their organizations. They inspire and motivate their teams by setting high ethical standards and cultivating an environment where everyone feels valued.

By embracing moral integrity, leaders gain the trust and confidence of their employees, creating a positive work atmosphere. This commitment to ethical leadership contributes to the long-term success of organizations and promotes a positive impact on both employees and society as a whole.

Moral integrity in leadership is about consistently upholding moral values, leading by example, and fostering a culture of trust and respect. It is a vital characteristic that sets apart exceptional leaders and paves the way for organizations’ success and ethical growth.

It’s all about following the leader

Leaders influence their company directly. The decisions they make determine how things are going to be. They are steering the ship, ensuring it gets to the correct port.

What they say is less important than what they do. Every company has heard that having a mission statement is a good idea, and we are always optimistic when crafting them.

Even the most corrupt agencies have inspiring messages to try to sell us. It’s easy to print out posters and paste them on the walls in the office. People don’t react to what leaders say; it’s what leaders do. They have to act in line with what they state their values are.

Leaders affect their companies indirectly too. Their actions can make significant changes in where the company goes. The actions that they take at every turn are setting a precedent. It’s a blueprint for acceptable behavior. Leaders are crafting their company culture, which is as important if not more important than their stated values. Culture determines what leaders do when nobody is watching and what every single employee does behind closed doors.

Why is Integrity in Leadership Important?

Integrity in leadership plays a crucial role in the success and effectiveness of individuals and organizations. It’s an essential quality that fosters trust, inspires confidence, and drives ethical behavior. 

Here are several reasons why integrity in leadership is of key importance:

Reasons why integrity in leadership is important

Building Trust:

Leaders with integrity create an atmosphere of trust within their teams and organizations. When leaders consistently act with honesty, transparency, and reliability, they earn the trust and respect of their employees, fostering a collaborative and productive work environment.

Inspiring Confidence:

Integrity in leadership inspires confidence and followership. When leaders consistently uphold moral values, make principled decisions, and take responsibility for their actions, they become role models that others want to emulate.

Driving Ethical Behavior:

Leaders set the tone for ethical conduct within organizations. By demonstrating integrity in their actions and decision-making, leaders establish clear expectations for ethical behavior and create a culture where honesty, fairness, and respect are valued.

Enhancing Reputation:

Organizations led by leaders with integrity tend to have a positive reputation in the marketplace. When leaders consistently align with their values and demonstrate ethical leadership, it strengthens the organization’s brand, attracts stakeholders, and enhances its overall reputation.

Nurturing Long-Term Success:

Integrity in leadership is essential for sustainable success. By prioritizing ethical considerations, leaders make sound and responsible decisions that contribute to the long-term growth and viability of the organization.

Integrity in leadership is vital for building trust, inspiring confidence, driving ethical behavior, enhancing reputation, and nurturing long-term success. It is a foundational element that sets the stage for effective leadership and fosters a culture of integrity throughout the organization. 

Company leaders shape company culture

Leaders can change their company culture by helping to focus attention on specific issues and addressing how the team should react to them. They can help determine how to respond to crises and show what problem-solving should look like. They are a role model for everyone in the company, and embracing that power can help others improve too. Leaders get to allocate how to distribute rewards, how they structure it when they reward someone, and which actions merit awards.

Leaders can determine what behaviors they want their employees to take and have positive pressure on them to take those actions. They set the criteria for hiring people. Leaders choose what kind of person the company is looking for and what their standards should be. These leaders also decide when someone has crossed the line or failed and gets fired. 

Leaders can choose the flow of pressure for their employees, good and bad, and their behaviors will automatically adjust to the pressures they put in place.

Traits of leadership with moral integrity

Many qualities contribute to the moral integrity of a leader. A leader with moral integrity will exhibit the following traits:


Taking responsibility for their actions and decisions without making excuses or shifting blame. The easiest way to earn respect is not to make excuses. If you did it, you need to make it right.


Being open and honest in communication, sharing information, and admitting mistakes when necessary. To err is human; denying that only aggravates those around you.

Ethical behavior:

Prioritizing the needs of others and making decisions that align with moral principles and values. They realize that there is more to life than serving themselves.


Treating all individuals with justice and equity, considering diverse perspectives, and avoiding favoritism. 


Demonstrating consistency in actions and decision-making, ensuring reliability and predictability. 


Building trust by being reliable, keeping commitments, and maintaining confidentiality when required. 


Respect and consideration towards others, valuing their opinions and contributions. Everyone deserves respect, and everyone should have it.


Being genuine to oneself, aligning actions with values, and avoiding pretense. 


The courage to stand up for what is right, even in adversity or difficult situations.


Displaying humility by recognizing limitations, admitting mistakes, and valuing the contributions of others. They know the difference between confidence and arrogance and stay on the right side.

These qualities collectively contribute to a leader’s moral integrity, shaping their character and influencing their interactions with others. By embodying these traits, leaders can inspire trust, foster a positive work culture, and create an environment where ethical behavior thrives.

It’s important for leaders to strive for these qualities and continually develop their moral integrity, as it sets the foundation for effective leadership and the success of their organizations. 

It’s what employees want

According to a survey by LRN, employees feel that morality has an essential role in business decisions. We should have been paying more attention in kindergarten. Like when they were drilling into us that we should treat others how we would like to be treated. Employees want the company they work for to obey the ‘golden rule’; they want moral managers and believe morality can improve a company’s resilience.

Of the employees surveyed: 

83% believe companies should follow the ‘golden rule.’ 

62% believe that their managers would be more effective if they leaned on their morals 

59% think that their employer would be able to handle more challenges if they were more morally sound. 

What employees want is in stark contrast with what they believe they are seeing. 

23% say that their direct managers are moral leaders. 

17% say that their leaders stand up for those mistreated. 

Finally, a whole 12% say their managers take the time to speak with them about why their work is meaningful. 

Yet…60% of managers expect loyalty from their team. 

It’s what customers want

Your customers want you to stand up for what is correct as well. For social and political issues, they are interested in knowing what your company believes in and how firm you are on those beliefs. It’s important to note that they don’t want your words. Statements by companies get almost no reactions. It is the actions that companies take that bring people to pay attention. If you are telling people anything, announce when you are donating to a specific cause and encourage others to do the same. 66% of consumers think that it is essential for brands to take a stand. 

39% of people think that company announcements are effective 

It is also imperative that you don’t just go about town making random donations. Your actions’ impact depends most on your company’s relevance to those issues. It also depends on who your customer base is. If the consumers you target bleed blue. They are much more likely to want your brand to take a stand and will see your positions as much more critical. If you have a more conservative crowd, they will likely be indifferent, as only 52% think that a company taking a stand is necessary, as opposed to 82% for liberals. 

What do your customers care about? 

47% said they care about issues that directly affect them 

40% said your employees 

31% said business operations 

Thanks, Sprout Social, for keying us into these insights. 

Remember Enron? 

Enron is a classic example of how things can go wrong from the top down. Their prominent leaders, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, were initially praised. They surged Enron’s stock price to a peak of $90.75 a share and had a valuation of around $70 billion. 

Their flare for using fake holdings and off-the-books accounting practices allowed them to fool investors of how much money they were bringing in. At the same time, their use of special purpose vehicles (SPVs) and unique purpose entities (SPEs) were used to hide toxic assets and piles of debt. If they opened a power plant, they would mark its potential income as real income from day one. If the actual profits came in under the projections, they transferred the asset to a corporation that was off the books and did not report the loss. 

Jeffrey Skilling, their fearless leader, was an adrenaline junkie and fierce competitor. His belief that it was eat or be eaten trickled down to the rest of his company. He also instituted a grading system for employees, firing employees who failed to meet their performance objectives. Prioritizing cutthroat tactics bred cutthroat traders. 

The traders would choke off power to parts of California’s grid, forcing demand and surging the prices. The recording shows men who were unashamed of what they were doing and proud of their ingenuity. The lack of moral integrity poisoned Enron from the top down. Having someone in charge whose moral compass didn’t point north led to immoral actions by his hand and emphasized a culture that did shady things on his behalf. 

5 Steps to Build Integrity in Leadership

Building integrity in leadership is essential for creating a culture of trust, ethical behavior, and long-term success. By following these 5 steps, leaders can actively cultivate and strengthen integrity in their approach, setting a positive example for their team and organization.

5 Steps to build integrity in leadership

Define Your Values:

One of the first steps to build integrity in leadership is to define your core values. Identify the principles and beliefs that guide your decision-making and shape your leadership style. Clearly articulating your values will provide a strong foundation for ethical leadership.

Set Clear Expectations:

Communicate your expectations for ethical behavior to your team and organization. Establish clear guidelines and standards that align with your values. Setting explicit expectations creates a framework for ethical conduct and provides a roadmap for your team members.

Lead by Example:

Integrity starts at the top. As a leader, leading by example and consistently demonstrating integrity in your actions and decisions is essential. Act in alignment with your values, make ethical choices, and hold yourself accountable. Your behavior sets the tone for the entire organization.

Seek Feedback: 

Regularly seek feedback from your team and stakeholders regarding your leadership and integrity. Encourage open and honest communication, and be receptive to constructive criticism. Listen to different perspectives and use the feedback to improve your leadership approach.

Continuously Improve:

Integrity in leadership is a lifelong journey of growth and improvement. Commit to ongoing self-reflection and personal development. Continuously evaluate your actions, decisions, and their alignment with your values. Learn from your experiences and strive to become an even more effective and ethical leader.

The Power of Moral Integrity in Leadership

Integrity in leadership is the foundation of successful companies. It encompasses actions aligned with ethical principles, transparency, and accountability. 

Leaders with integrity inspire trust, shape organizational culture, and set the stage for sustainable success. Whether it’s through taking responsibility for their actions, prioritizing the needs of others, or fostering a culture of respect and fairness, leaders with moral integrity make a profound impact. 

Examples like Enron’s downfall highlight the devastating consequences of compromised integrity. Moral integrity in leadership is the right thing to do and essential for building thriving organizations in today’s business landscape.

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