Amy Lavender Harris
Centre for Industrial Relations
University of Toronto

Industrial Relations
Environmental Philosophy

Leadership and the Integrity Challenge

Below is a talk prepared for a management course at the University of Toronto in 2005. As such, it represents a summary of ideas I am working on rather than a full development of them. Comments welcome. Please do not use without permission. Amy Lavender Harris may be contacted at

Update: This research was featured in a 2005 Globe & Mail article: see "All the rules in the world won't give rise to integrity", Wallace Immen, Globe & Mail, Friday August 26, 2005, page C1.

Amy Lavender Harris, B.A. (Hons.), M.PL.
Centre for Industrial Relations
University of Toronto
March 2005

    Being a Lodestar: Navigating the Moral Terrain of Organizational Leadership

1.     Introduction

    A lodestar is a beacon, a star that guides. It is the old name for Polaris, the north star, around which the constellations appear to revolve, the reliable point of reference for navigation over land and sea. A person or principle serving as a model or guiding principle is sometimes described as a lodestar. Today I wish to talk about how a leader may be a lodestar.

    But first I wish to speak into a rupture. I wish to step into a slippage I think exists in contemporary business education and practice, a disconnect in the ways we theorize, practice, and evaluate leadership. I wish to talk us across a chasm created by a series of confusions. In doing so, I will describe a territory rent and ripped, a region where the landscape heaves and changes, a terrain requiring a lodestar if we are to navigate across it. The poet Yeats said "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold … the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." His lines are a good description of contemporary organizations, of contemporary leadership.

    I will deliver this talk in two sections. First, I wish to show how our conceptions of leadership amount to a kind of wishful thinking, a naive version of a hoped-for reality that does not mesh at all well with our experiences. We train business graduates who are ill-equipped to deal with the realities of organizations and the complexities of leadership. In my view, the problem is not a matter of teaching ‘right-minded' business rules and best practices. I think business schools do too much of this already. Nor does the problem arise from a vacuum of leadership, as is sometimes claimed. We have too many business-school leaders – not too few – and too many leadership conferences. We need different kinds of leaders, leaders who are able to navigate. We need a lodestar.

    The second thing I will seek to do in this talk is describe the tumbled moral terrain of contemporary organizations. I will map the topographies most typically ignored, the areas most affected by seismic slippages. These areas are difficult to map, not only because they are rumpled and riddled with caverns and faults, but because they change. They shift. And when we send our inadequately practised or self-proclaimed leaders to survey this terrain, too often they claim it for themselves, or return with maps poorly and indistinctly marked. In this territory we trade in the current currency of business: the recent, belated, and almost certainly temporary rediscovery of the value of morality. We do so without reference to any lodestar.

    At its worst, the current rush to define ethical business practices and to hold the leaders of organizations to moral standards is a cynical distraction, a generalized expression of contempt or temporary contrition in the face of recent exposures and convictions, a nefarious seizing of moral territory for avaricious purposes. At best, good intentions are derailed by the nearly interchangeable use of concepts. We declaim the need for ethical leadership, integrity, and trust without a clear sense of whether these concepts may actually be deployed in practice – or whether they can mean anything at all.
  It seems to me that when we attempt to exert and deploy conceptions of ethical leadership across the muddled moral terrain of contemporary organizations, the concepts themselves rupture across the landscape. Two kinds of rupturing are readily apparent. In the first, we encounter manifest organizational crises measured by scandalous revelations of wrongdoing, indictments of executive officers and accountants, and bleeding bottom lines. In these situations, it is too late to apply moral standards, except perhaps in judgement. In the second kind of rupturing, we encounter moral failures so ordinary but so widespread and persistent that they erode the very notion of organizational sustainability and ethical leadership. These are the daily abuses that engender cynicism: the subtle and overt denigration of colleagues and subordinates, predation, the theft of ideas, misrepresentation, negligent disclosure, the displacement of blame, failures in reciprocity and empathy, and the resolute putting of the self first – expressions of the generalized megalomania that attracts many people to business.
  Amid these and other ruptures, business writers, public and private agencies and think tanks, dubiously qualified researchers, consultants, and the media have sought to improve the moral climate of organizations – or at least capitalize upon the current Zeitgeist. In doing so, they have produced a whole industry of integrity products and services overly closely allied with the businesses and institutions they purport to criticise or correct. And in doing so, they have managed to cheapen both leadership and integrity. They have done nothing to ease what the Ivey Business Journal calls a "crisis of trust" (2004: 1) and what an article published in the Academy of Management Review nearly thirty years ago described as "moral abhorrence" and "general condemnation" of business (1977: 360). That these two comments were published decades apart says something else about current efforts: they fail to acknowledge that the problems are not even new. They merely cloak old reports and recommendations in the fashionable language, and sell them at the current rates.  In doing so, they have perpetuated a series of confusions, constructing a recursive hall of mirrors. I would like to cut through these confusions, and propose a path.

2.     Ungrounded Idealism: the Problem of Leadership

    I do not think it is easy to be a leader. In my experience it is both immensely difficult and immensely costly. Indeed, I think a willingness to bear costs is an essential prerequisite for leadership. Moreover, I find there is a paradox in leadership: leadership is directed outward, in service to an idea or organization, but at the same time leadership is embodied in the individual self. Hence the cult of leaders. Hence the tension between leaders and the organizations they serve. Hence the tendency to study and teach leadership first through the examination of traits and behaviours of individuals and only secondarily by evaluating their service to organizational goals.

    I would like to sum up the standard business school approach to ethical leadership. If I oversimplify, I do so in keeping with the textbooks business schools use to teach organizational behaviour and human resources management. Once I have oversimplified sufficiently, I would like to make things more complex. My purpose for doing so is not to undermine what business schools teach about leadership, but to argue that what they teach is of little use as long as they fail to acknowledge the inherent tension between leaders and the organizations they serve, and as long as they gloss over the ways leadership is tested in times of rupture and crisis, the very times when the need for ethical leadership is most urgent.

    A well known and widely used organizational behaviour textbook defines leadership as "the influence that particular individuals exert on the goal achievement of others in an organizational context." (Johns and Saks, 2005: 274) In a separate chapter, the same textbook defines "power" as "the capacity to influence others who are in a state of dependence." (ibid: 377) In linking leadership with individual power, the text invokes the work of psychologist David McClelland, who found (perhaps self-evidently) that the need for power expresses itself as a "need to have strong influence over others." (ibid: 142; 385)

    McClelland describes three kinds of leaders in organizations: institutional managers (who use their power for the good of organizations); personal power managers (who use their power for personal gain); and affiliative managers (who are "more concerned with being liked than with exercising power.") On first reading, the division seems so neat; the ethical choice of leadership style almost obvious. And indeed, McClelland's research has found institutional managers to be the most effective at "giving subordinates a sense of responsibility, clarifying organizational priorities, and instilling team spirit." (ibid: 385) This research is broadened  in the 2001 Voice of the Leader study conducted by the Washington-based Corporate Executive Board. This study found that ‘tomorrow's leaders' will require people management skills (the ability to communicate expectations, inspire others, hold people accountable, develop staff, value diversity, and persuade and encourage others); strategic management skills (the ability to adapt to change, articulate long-term vision and hold a global perspective, understand customers, and manage relationships); personal characteristics (honesty and integrity, adaptability, passion, the capacity to accept responsibility for both success and failure, openness to new ideas, and challenge the status quo); and process management skills (ability to manage innovation, allocate resources, translate and implement a vision, solve problems, measure results). These competencies seem to make a great deal of sense; indeed, they seem the very embodiment of a good leader. In these terms, a good leader does something more than merely manage: a good leader shapes and embodies organizational culture; exerts influence in the choice and pursuit of organizational goals; empowers and coaches colleagues and subordinates to share in and implement those goals; and serves as the bellwether of the moral standards of an organization. But at the same time, they seem quaintly idealistic; a description of what good leaders should be rather than what many actual leaders are like, and a depiction of an organizational climate where the pace of change is manageable, the moral dilemmas easily resolved, and the tension between ego and organization a trivial matter.

    And when leadership engages – as it must – with questions of ethics and morality, the gap between reality and the hoped-for ideal becomes even more striking. The same organizational behaviour textbook I mentioned earlier presents "seven themes" defining managers' moral standards for decision-making: honest communication; fair treatment; special consideration under special circumstances (generosity); fair competition; responsibility to organization; corporate social responsibility; and respect for laws (Johns and Saks, 2005: 395-396). Simple enough, even formulaic. Moral questions are reduced, in this lexicon, to "ethical dilemmas". But at the same time, the text quotes a Journal of Business Ethics report that "a large majority" of managers surveyed agree that unethical practices occur in business, and between 40 and 90% (depending on the study) "report that they have been pressured to compromise their own ethical standards when making organizational decisions." (ibid: 394; and see endnotes to chapter). In even more significant contrast, the text lists "ethical issues" identified by executives (ibid: 395). What struck me in reviewing this list were the things many or most executives did not consider to be ethical issues for business, including executive salaries (which 63% did not consider ethical issues); plant closures and downsizing (which 45% did not consider ethical issues); financial and cash management procedures (which 45% did not consider ethical issues); government contract issues (which 41% did not consider ethical issues); corporate due process (which 27% did not consider ethical issues); product safety standards (which 26% did not consider ethical issues); and security of company records (which 24% did not consider ethical issues).

    Far from indicating concern for ethical issues, these results show that many or most business leaders fail to grasp the moral complexities attached to the full range of their business activities. Despite all the efforts of corporate consultants, oversight agencies, legislation, and ethics codes and training, this invites a conclusion that a widespread pathology of selfishness and oblivion impairs both business leaders and corporate culture. And consider one of the latest revelations: that hundreds of applicants to American business schools illicitly gained access to their application status by following instructions posted to an on-line message board. While Harvard Business School, Carnegie-Mellon, and MIT are reportedly rejecting applicants found to have accessed their information (likening it to "using the keys to the admissions office to enter at night"), several  applicants who acknowledged accessing the information told media that they do not consider their actions wrong. In contrast, the Dean of MIT's business school commented, "It seemed to us you would have to have pretty bad judgment or pretty bad ethics not to know you were doing something wrong. ... If you don't realize you shouldn't do that, something's off." ("Would-be MBAs learn that, yes, ethics do count", Toronto Star, March 10 2005)  It seems to me that the applicants engaged in the same kind of rationalization that pervades the business world they hope to enter: that it was their information to access, that nobody was harmed by their actions, that curiosity is simply human nature. But their activities were unethical. And if a report published on an MIT professor's technology weblog ( ) is accurate, the security hole which applicants exploited to gain the illicit information resulted from a monumental carelessness on the part of the designers and negligence on the part of the universities who contracted out the technical services, meaning that the moral failure rests with the applicants, the purveyors of the application software, and the business schools themselves.

    And where does this leave us? Perhaps we are mired in a moral quagmire. Perhaps even if we can see the lodestar, we cannot hope to follow it because of the obstacles in our way. Perhaps they are too great to overcome. Perhaps we are doomed by human nature, by curiosity, temptation, competition, denial, and the lust for personal gain. Perhaps we cannot successfully navigate between the short- and long-term consequences of our actions and the gains to ourselves and the costs to others. Perhaps we are blinded by our own desires. Perhaps we lack empathy. Perhaps we are doomed by the business culture we are responsible for having created.

3.     Seeking the Lodestar: Navigating the Moral Terrain of Organizations

    Now that I have pointed out some of the naive and wishful thinking that characterizes conventional conceptions of ethical leadership, I would like to turn more directly to the problem of navigation. If our leaders lack a moral compass, how might they discover one? If they can discover one, how might they be encouraged to use it?

    As I have already indicated, currently there is a great surge of interest in business ethics and corporate integrity. Much of this interest fixates on the notion that despite their long records of dereliction and malfeasance, organizational leaders might become beacons of integrity. In preparing for this talk, I researched how business schools and the business literature conceive of ethical leadership. I also read some of the foundational philosophical literature on ethics and integrity, and noted some interesting gaps. And in doing so, I have identified three areas of failure which may help account for the willfully naive approach to ethical leadership and our resultant surprise and outrage when business leaders act in selfish and damaging ways. Although I think these failures seriously undermine business education and leadership, a full exploration of them is part of my longer-term research agenda and today I will describe them only briefly before turning to my current thoughts on ways it might be possible to lead with integrity.

    (a) The Naive appeal to economics. The first failure in conceiving of the possibility of business and leadership integrity lies in a naive appeal to economics. In essence, this arises from an argument that corporations will become more responsible over time because in the long run it simply does not pay to be unethical. This claim has an interesting persistence. Interestingly enough, I encountered it first in an article titled "Is Commercial Integrity Increasing?" published in the International Journal of Ethics in 1900. The author argued that "the standard of commercial honesty and business integrity of the man of mercantile affairs of to-day is far higher than before", and opposed regulation of business on the ground that anti-trust laws "hamper trade in various ways". He argued that competition and centralization of business are "the working out of an economic law", and asserted that business growth and profitability "is only possible by inspiring confidence" and added that "confidence cannot be maintained excepting by universally upright dealings." (Morton, 1900). The sole piece of evidence provided for this extraordinary claim is that amid historically intense competition, wages remained constant while working hours were reduced and buying power increased.

    History, of course, has judged this era somewhat more harshly for its reliance on child labour, appalling working conditions, and environmental spoliation. Nonetheless, similar claims still find voice. A very recent article published in The Economist objects to corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs on the grounds that "they are based on a faulty – and dangerously faulty – analysis of the capitalist system". Describing CSR as "tainted charity", the article asserts that in making profits for shareholders, a well-run company "without even trying, is doing good works. ... the selfish pursuit of profit serves a social purpose ... The standard of living people in the West today enjoy is due to little else but the selfish pursuit of profit." Never mind the costs to the developing world, which in too many cases is consigned to the same bleak conditions Mr. Morton glossed over a century ago. Never mind the stunned ex-employees of firms bankrupted by their lying executives. And never mind the public's growing reluctance to wait any longer for corporations and business leaders to start demonstrating a serious commitment to fairness and honesty. The article does acknowledge that the "good works" companies may achieve through the selfish pursuit of profit require that a firm "behaves honestly and obeys the law" – two conditions demonstrably absent in too many circumstances for the argument to remain credible.

    In my view, simplistic claims that corporate leaders will do the right thing because doing so makes the best economic sense for firms ignores two realities. First, it isn't happening. The evidence shows that corporate responsibility -- to employees, to shareholders, to the environment -- improves only when companies are bitten by legislative teeth. The reality appears that many companies – and their leaders – will get away with as much as they can. And second, corporate leaders do not invariably -- or perhaps even reliably -- put corporate interests ahead of their own. And so, in my view we need to reject naive appeals to economics as a pathway to ethical leadership.

    (b) The uneasy partnership of ego and organization. The second failure in efforts to adequately characterize ethical leadership stems from naive optimism about the alignment of personal and organizational interests and objectives. As Edwin Boling writes in "The Management Ethics "Crisis": An Organizational Perspective", "somewhere between organizational dependence upon individual standards set by indoctrination and the dependence of individuals upon organizational guidance, ethical behaviour slips to scandalous dimensions." (1978: 361) Despite efforts to integrate leadership trait analysis with organizational culture, organizational behaviouralists gloss over tensions between the two realms. As Boling points out, "personal integrity" is prioritized in research: "ethical practices are supposed to arise out of individual character shaped by commitment to religious, social, and philosophical beliefs." Boling proposes "cooperative ethical contracts" in which this order is reversed: organizations establish ethical premises, individual moral judgements reflect social norms, and moral action becomes a matter of cooperative social relations. Boling, however, fails to account for the reality that moral failures appear to occur in both individuals and organizations. Ethical leadership is eroded not only by individual malfeasance, but by organizational norms that reward dishonesty and selfishness directly or by failing to prosecute it -- norms that seem prevalent in current business climates. Further, organizations are hardly monolithic entities within which common moral standards might easily be defined and agreed upon.  And further still, research (e.g., Elangovan and Shapiro, 1998) focusing on betrayal of trust in organizations as an individual phenomenon distinct from deviance and antisocial behaviour risks oversimplifying the nature of social relationships and the impacts of individual behaviour on organizational culture. If, as the authors of this research acknowledge, "betrayal ... is the shadow of trust and loyalty" (1998: 547), then so too are individuals the shadows of the organizations they move in and construct. We cannot choose to focus on organizational norms or individual behaviours: we must identify the messy and convoluted relationships between them. And in doing so, we must admit that defining the source of both ethical failures and strengths is a difficult thing.

    (c) The vagueness of the concepts. The third failure in efforts to define and encourage ethical leadership arises from the vagueness of the terms and concepts we use. I will focus on two terms in particular: "trust" and "integrity", terms which have become debased from misuse and abuse, and which require salvaging if we are to continue to use them at all.

    Trust: A recent article in the Ivey Business Journal defines trust as "beautiful in its simplicity ... the unquestioned belief that the other person has your best interests at heart." (Beslin, 2004) The article acknowledges that trust must be built, and suggests a four-step approach: (1) communicate; (2) build loyalty and credibility; (3) implement interactive communications pathways; and (4) evaluate and measure progress. The article comments that "leaders are judged on what they do to win trust, and the sincerity and consistency of their effort to retain it." True enough, but easier said than done. In contrast to the article's naive depiction of trust, I will counter that trust is beautiful in its complexity. There is nothing simple about it. Nor is there anything common about it, if public opinion surveys are any indication. The 2002 Golin/Harris Trust Survey, for example, found that 69% of American respondents said that they "don't know who to trust anymore", and depicted what it called a "crisis of trust" in corporate America. The Golin/Harris survey also came up with much more specific things CEOs might do to earn trust, underscoring the reality that corporate leaders must do more than appear to communicate. The criteria: assume personal responsibility and accountability; personally and visibly show care and concern for customers; stick to a code of business ethics no matter what; communicate openly and frequently with stakeholders; and handle crises better, more openly and more directly. These findings are echoed by business writer Carol Stephenson, who observes that organizational leaders must not only talk about but live their ethical values all the time.

    And so, what we have here is a bifurcation between fuzzy romanticized notions of trust as something beautiful and simple and the harsher reality that trust takes hard work and a commitment to principles beyond self-interest. Add to that the dangerous vulnerability that trust entails: the placing of one's own interests in the hands of another. Trust is dangerous and risky. It is not something we should speak lightly of. And unless we can find some way to replace the shaky infrastructure with something more solid, we might as well abandon the concept entirely.

    Integrity: Integrity is another concept undermined not only by profligate and varied misuse but by equally fuzzy definition. In a 2003 press release, Microsoft suggests the following definition: "Business integrity means that not only do people have to trust a company's products; they need to also trust its businesses practices. At Microsoft, we understand that acting responsibly with customers involves being transparent in all business dealings, hiring and promoting according to core values of integrity, leadership and passion, and carefully and respectfully addressing problems with products or services." A slippage is evident here, given that ‘integrity' is defined by reference to other fuzzy and elastic concepts like ‘trust', which are in turn defined by reference to ‘integrity'.

    Quoting an observation that integrity "remains vague and ill-defined after more than 50 years of research", business professor Thomas Becker comments in The Academy of Management Review (1998) that the association of ‘integrity' with ‘conscientiousness' and ‘honesty' "may result in trading in one poorly understood concept for another." On the association of integrity with trust, truthfulness, and honesty, he comments, "honesty and integrity, although related in some ways, are conceptually distinct." Becker proposes that integrity be composed as follows: "(1) I value (reason, purpose, and self-esteem); (2) I am (rational, honest, independent, just, productive, and proud); (3) my values, goals, and behaviour are congruent; and (4) I am willing to do whatever is necessary to live according to my most cherished values." (1998: 159) While Becker's objectivist approach has been roundly (and in my view justly) criticized (see Barry and Stephens, 1998, for example) for its reliance on rational egoism and its underestimation of the role of social power, he does accomplish two things. First, his acknowledgement of the insufficiency of extant conceptions of integrity is a valuable insight. Second, his claim that business integrity should be grounded in the virtue of selfishness is revealing in being remarkably reminiscent of the naive appeals to economics I have already discussed as one failure in contemporary efforts to account for leadership and integrity in organizations. And third, despite its limitations, Becker's conception of integrity does stretch toward a definition of integrity that might become plausible with amendment. What might this be?

    In my research for this talk, I noticed a rather striking disconnect in how integrity is conceptualized in the business and philosophical literatures. Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition) defines integrity as follows: (1) firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility; (2) an unimpaired condition: soundness; and (3) the quality or state of being complete or undivided: completeness. In this context, incorruptibility, soundness, and completeness might be seen as three ‘tests' of integrity. For their part, business writers focus almost exclusively on the first test in espousing a reliance on defining, implementing, and (re)enforcing rules and codes of ethics. Rules are a useful test, as far as they go, but they are inadequate in a number of ways. They give rise to questions: Who creates the codes? How might they be modified? How do they account for exceptional circumstances? How are conflicts dealt with? I question the ability of codes of ethics, on their own, to help us define a pathway toward ethical leadership. But if we think more broadly and more philosophically about integrity, we might find the lodestar.

    One pathway is suggested by philosopher Cheshire Calhoun. Calhoun begins with "three pictures" of integrity: "the integrated-self, identity, and clean-hands pictures of integrity" (1995: 235) Calhoun's objection to these approaches is twofold. First, he comments that "each ultimately reduces integrity to something else with which it is not equivalent – to the conditions of unified agency, to the conditions for continuing as the same self, and to the conditions for having a reason to refuse cooperating with some evils." And second, in these accounts, integrity is seen as a personal virtue and not as a social virtue. In short, Calhoun objects to the notion of integrity as reducing to the circumstantial self. Calhoun suggests that "standing for something" is the prime social virtue. He asks: "what is worth doing? ... What evils, if any, ought one morally to refuse doing no matter the consequences?" He suggests that we must ultimately be co-deliberators: "Her standing for something is not just something she does for herself. She takes a stand for, and before, all deliberators who share the goal of determining what is worth doing." (ibid: 257)

    In my view, Calhoun's proposed pathway is enormously rich. It moves beyond naive appeals. It places the territory of what is being determined beyond only the self. It does not appeal to vague and fuzzy notions. Rather, it underscores the difficulty of determining what is worth doing, the hard work of trying to act with integrity. Calhoun also acknowledges the possibility of rupture: he says, "when what is worth doing is under dispute, concern to act with integrity must pull us both ways. Integrity calls us simultaneously to stand behind our convictions and to take seriously others' doubts about them." How might this represent a pathway? In concluding and reframing the matter which has motivated this talk – how a leader may be a lodestar – I think we must now enter the ruptured moral landscape of organizations.

4.     Reframing: Is there a Lodestar in sight?

    In this talk today I have poked holes in conventional understandings of ethical leadership, which I have termed naively idealistic and inadequate to account for the realities of unethical leadership and organizational pathology that we so often enter in our personal and professional lives. In doing so, I hope I have not seemed too much of a cynic. And in identifying what I see as failures in our efforts to navigate the moral terrain of organizations – our naive appeals to economics, our conflation of individuals with organizations (and vice versa), and our reliance on fuzzily-defined conceptions of ‘trust' and ‘integrity' – I do not mean to suggest that we should abandon our idealism. To the contrary: I think we need to be more idealistic. But we do need to move beyond naive idealism and gullible expectations about the pervasiveness and persistence of ethical leadership. We must expect more, and we must judge more harshly. We should not be perennially surprised.

    To begin with, we must acknowledge that tensions exist between leaders and the organizations they are expected to serve. The drive to power and privileged access to resources are too often irresistible temptations. Organizational leaders are hardly immune from failures in empathy; indeed, research suggests that they are uniquely prone to selfish megalomania. We must also discard our fuzzy and oversimplified ideas about ethics, trust, and integrity, and instead understand and employ them in ways that are meaningful and practicable. We should also abandon our naive appeals to classical economic theory, and the idea that we don't need to worry about organizational ethics because unethical practices are simply not profitable in the long run. We simply cannot wait for classical economics to tell us when the long run is up. We require a different measure. And so we look to the lodestar.

    How might a leader be a lodestar? If a leader is to be a beacon and a guiding principle, she must be able to navigate through turbulent and shifting landscapes. She must be reliable. She must be resolute. A leader must be prepared to stand for something, to sustain a commitment to the good of something beyond herself, to harness herself to an outward-facing set of priorities and principles. But these are just starting points. She must be able to confront the difficulties, the messiness, the rupture of organizational leadership. She must be able to navigate. If she cannot define answers, at least she must be able to identify some of the right questions. And in seeking to do so, perhaps the greatest mark of leadership is the acknowledgement that this is a tremendously difficult thing to accomplish.

Postscript: Personal Views on Leadership and Integrity

Carol Stephenson writes in the Ivey Business Journal that leaders are forged in a "crucible of leadership". She cites research by Warren Bennis of the Leadership Institute and Robert J. Thomas of the Accenture Institute for Strategic Change, which found the following:

Each leader they interviewed shared a  love of learning and strong sense of values. Each one was "full of energy, curiosity and confidence that the world is a place of wonders" waiting to be discovered. And each one was "able to point to intense, often traumatic, always unplanned experiences that transformed them and became the source of their distinctive leadership abilities."

Although in my own life I have valued personal independence over organizational leadership, recurringly I take public positions and hold leadership roles when not doing so would mean failing to stand for something. I have done so at great personal cost. But in acknowledging this I will point to John Ralston Saul's assertion that "ethics is the least romantic of human qualities; the one with the hardest edge; the most demanding." (Saul, 2001: 97). And I will refer further to philosopher Cheshire Calhoun's averrence that

looking at integrity not as the personal virtue of keeping oneself intact but as the social virtue of standing for something before fellow deliberators helps explain why we care that persons have the courage of their convictions. The courageous provide spectacular displays of integrity by withstanding social incredulity, ostracism, contempt, and physical assault when most of us would be inclined to give in, compromise, or retreat into silence. Social circumstances that erect powerful deterrents to speaking and acting on one's own best judgment undermine the possibilities for deliberating about what is worth doing. We thus have good reason to be thankful when persons of integrity refuse to be cowed. (1995: 259)

I do not describe myself as a person of integrity. I do not consider 'integrity' a mantle one may don for oneself. In my view, integrity is not something one can have or possess: it is not a commodity. But integrity is a quality one may exemplify and strive toward. As Calhoun puts it, integrity may be a "master virtue", something that "presses into service a host of other virtues". These virtues include courage, honesty, loyalty, humility, civility, and respect. Hard virtues, all of them. And also good descriptors of ethical leadership.

Speaker Profile

Amy Lavender Harris is a Master of Industrial Relations candidate at the Centre for Industrial Relations, University of Toronto. She has served in a variety of public positions, including as President and Chief Negotiator for Local 3903 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and as an elected member of the York University Senate. Amy's commitment to public service has extended to her professional work as an urban planner and journalist and her voluntary work as a civilian instructor.  Beyond her interests in public sector labour relations, Amy teaches at York University as a contract faculty member and conducts research in environmental philosophy.


Associated Press, 2005. "Harvard to bar 119 applicants who hacked admissions site". Globe and
    Mail, Wednesday March 9, 2005.

Barry, Bruce and Carroll U. Stephens, 1998. Objections to an Objectivist Approach to Integrity.
    Academic of Management Review, 23(1): 162-169.

Becker, Thomas E., 1998. Integrity in Organizations: Beyond Honesty and Conscientiousness.
    Academy of Management Review, 23(1): 154-161.

Beslin, Ralph, 2004. How leaders can communicate to build trust. Ivey Business Journal,
    Nov/Dec: G1-.

Boling, T. Edwin, 1977. The Management Ethics "Crisis": An Organizational Perspective.
    Academy of Management Review, 3(2) (April): 360-365.

Bray, Hiawatha and Robert Weisman, 2005. "Harvard applicants breached security". Boston
    Globe, March 4, 2005.

Calhoun, Chester, 1995. Standing for Something. The Journal of Philosophy, 92(5): 235-260.

Corporate Executive Board, 2001. Corporate Leadership Council, "Voice of the Leader: A
    Qualitative Analysis of Leadership Bench Strength and Development Strategy.
    Washington, DC: Corporate Executive Board. Abstract available electronically at,1283,0-0-Public_Abstract-23685,00.html ;
    summary of competencies provided by Lori Riznek, University of Toronto, MGT 1362 course notes.

Golin/Harris, 2002. TRUST. American Business Faces a Crisis of Trust. Number two in a series.
    Available electronically as a .pdf file at

Greenspun, Philip, 2005. "Business schools redefine hacking to "stuff that a 7-year-old could do".
    Philip Greenspun's Weblog, Tuesday March 8, 2005. Permalink at .

Johns, Gary and Alan. M. Saks, 2005. Organizational Behaviour: Understanding and Managing
    Life at Work. 6th ed. Toronto: Pearson Prentice-Hall.

Microsoft Presspass, 2003. "The Journey to Trustworthy Computing: Microsoft Execs Report
    First-Year Progress". Redmond, Washington: Microsoft.

Mortin, I.W., 1900. Is Commercial Integrity Increasing?
    International Journal of Ethics, 11(1): 47-59.

Riznek, Lori, 2005. Understanding Leadership and Organizational Culture. MGT 1362 course
    notes. Rotman School of Business, University of Toronto.

Saul, John Ralston, 2001. On Equilibrium. Toronto: Penguin/Viking.

Stephenson, Carol, 2004. Rebuilding trust: The integral role of leadership in fostering values,
    honesty and vision. Ivey Business Journal Online, Jan/Feb 2004: 1-.

Toronto Star Wire Services, 2005. "Would-be MBAs learn that, yes, ethics do count". Toronto
    Star, March 10, 2005.

Yeats, William Butler, [1921] 1983. "The Second Coming". In The Norton Anthology of Poetry,
    3rd edition, shorter, eds. Alexander W. Allison et al, 520. New York: Norton.

On Polaris, the Lodestar:

Lode Star Quilt. Quilt 2000: Invoking Spirits. By Karen Tilley, McMinniville, OR.
Image and description available electronically at

Meriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 10th edition, 2002. Entry for lodestar.

Age of Aquarius: Age of the Goddess. 1999
Available electronically at

Legg Middle School Planetarium. Entry for the Pole Star, Polaris.
Available electronically at

Last updated 2 September 2005

Centre for Industrial Relations
University of Toronto