Christopher M. Broyhill, Ph.D., CAM

I try to start every day with some "quiet time" during which I read scripture and spend some time in prayer. Recently, I've been reading an interesting book called Handbook to Leadership* which presents a biblical view of leadership using scripture to illustrate its teaching points. While nearly everything I've encountered has applicability whether the leader is Christian or not, today's reading was particularly poignant.

The writers begin by saying that the definitions of the terms ethics, morality, and integrity often get confounded and people use them interchangeably. But, the writers say, the three terms are separate and distinct. They go on to argue that a clear understanding of integrity requires leaders to understand those separate definitions and how they interrelate.

Usually, I'm leaning back on my sofa and drinking coffee while I read during the morning, but those words caused me to sit up and take notice. If you've been exposed to the research I did for the NBAA in 2019 or read the book I wrote, "Business Aviation Leadership, From the Traits to the Trenches," you'll know that integrity was the number one trait that both leaders and followers valued in those who were in charge. I too always thought that ethics, morality, and integrity were approximately the same thing. Turns out, I was wrong.

The writers of "Handbook to Leadership," Kenneth Boa, Sid Buzzell, and Bill Perkins, provide these definitions for the terms:

  • Ethics = a defined standard of right and wrong; good and evil - what we ascribe to
  • Morality = a lived standard of right and wrong, good and evil - what we actually do
  • Integrity = good, sound, integrated - how ethics and morality coincide

So, what does this mean? Well, it's a little like an audit. Auditors might not like the processes an organization has in place, but typically, they more focused on how well an organization follows its own guidance. The strict definition of integrity is like that - it's indifferent to a particular set of ethical standards. It's more about compliance than right or wrong. I can have disgusting ethics, but if I abide by them, I'm integrated. I have "integrity." I can have terrible ethics but choose to do the right thing, and while that might be good, it's not integrated. I don't have integrity.

The point here is that for leaders, for any of us, strictly having integrity isn't enough. The value of integrity is found in the code of ethics we follow and the moral steps we take to abide by those ethics. We've all seen terrible leaders who had great integrity. Their ethics were self-centered and/or power-focused and they lived in accordance with those ethics. Hence, to lead well, indeed to live well, our integrity must demonstrate adherence to an ethical standard that rises above - an ethical standard that is in itself admirable - an ethical standard that will make others want to follow us.

*Boa, K., Buzzell, S., Perkins, B. (2007) Handbook to Leadership. Atlanta: Trinity House Publishers, Inc.