Leadership and integrity

THERE have been several unending debates as to whether or not Leadership is Innate or Not. We have heard about “born leader” i.e. not established by conditioning or learning or unlearned, unconditional, naïve, that leadership qualities were present at birth but may not necessarily be hereditary, congenital, in born, indigenous, non-heritable and or being talented through inherited qualities –born, natural, intelligent.

However, according to Brian Eastwood on his Twitter share on Linkedin’ on January 24, 2019, two research studies –one study with male twins and another with female twins found that only one-third of the variance of leadership qualities is associated with heredity. The study indicates that many key leadership qualities can be learned and improved over time, such as effective communication, goal setting, and strategic thinking.

Again, the foundation of Northeastern’s Master of Science in Leadership program suggests that leaders can be developed as enunciated by Teresa Goode, Ed D, Associate Teaching Professor of the Northeastern University. The programme emphasizes experimental learning, or the acquisition of knowledge through observation and experimentation in a professional setting.

The study by Goode also indicates that successful leaders demonstrate the following five qualities in their personal and professional lives, thus inspiring others.

First, they are self-aware and prioritize personal development which can be further improved upon by adopting a set of actions among which includes:

(a.) Set goals, prioritised goals and taking responsibility for accomplishing them

(b.) Avoid distraction, focusing on big goals

(c.) Retain awareness of your strengths and weakness

(d.) Accepting that things can and will go wrong.

Second, they focus on developing others because they operate on the principles of situational leadership theory which includes delegating, coaching, and mentoring of followers. And to improve on their focus, they embark upon:

(a.) Recruitment and development of a team with diverse skills and backgrounds and allocate to them the necessary wherewithals to perform and build trust among themselves.

(b.) Delegating responsibility which can be harder than completing the task yourself, but this allows you to see what a team is capable of doing.

(c.) Making training a priority within the organization. As Richard Branson famously said, “Train people well enough so that they can leave, but treat them well enough so they don’t want to”.

Third, encouraging strategic thinking, innovation, and action which can be improved upon by-

(a.) Maintaining a flexible mindset and be willing to try new ideas.

(b.) Encouraging creativity and innovation in your team through exercises such as brainstorming or prototyping

(c.) Setting a practical vision and suitable targets for your company. It’s better to consider smart goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

Four, they are ethically and civil minded because they always consider the consequences of their decisions for both their customers and their teams. They also improve upon these by-

(a.) Using their power and authority appropriately (Honesty is the best policy). When leaders are honest with employees, they reciprocate this trust, and the entire organization operates with integrity.

(b.) Being open, transparent and authentic.

(c.) Taking responsibility for their mistakes and expecting that of others on their team.

Five, they practice effective cross-cultural communication i.e. with individuals, business units, the entire company and to stakeholders outside the organization. They also can improve on that by:

(a.) Communicating the organization’s goals and targets frequently so that everyone in the organization knows what you, and they, are working to accomplish.

(b.) Adopting your communication style to different cultural traditions when necessary.

(c.) Remembering that listening is just as critical to communicating as talking.

The second concept that makes the thematic drive of this topic very unique is INTEGRITY.

Stephen Carter in Integrity made a unique and very expressive remarks when he said “Integrity is like the weather: Everyone talks about it, but no one knows what to do about it”.

Merriam –Webster defines integrity as “a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values”. Moorman et al; 2012 explained that it is essential that leadership integrity definitions judge people based on the morality of the values they hold as well as whether they behave consistently with these values.

From my understanding of the central theme of several writings on integrity, I am willing to arrive at this conclusion, ACTING YOUR TALKING. Then let us interrogate the subject for better clarity from Moorman’s, (Choi & Wang, 2007) accounts and let’s take the following:


Elements of integrity

  1. Integrity as wholeness: Integrity consists of a manager’s personal values, daily, actions, and basic organizational aims.
  2. Integrity as consistency between words and actions: A demonstrated consistency with regards to social behaviour.
  3. Integrity as consistency in the face of adversity: This also includes consistency in the face of temptation and challenge.
  4. Integrity as being true to oneself: Conceptualized as acting according to one’s own conscience.
  5. Integrity as morality/ethics: Acting in accordance with socially acceptable behaviour, such as honesty, trustworthiness, justice and compassion.


Integrity in the eye of the beholder

Bill George in Authentic Leadership states “Integrity is not just the absence of lying, but telling the whole truth, as painful as it may be, if you don’t exercise complete integrity in your interactions, no one will trust you”.

An individual’s perception that their leader has integrity signals that it is reasonable and appropriate to base decisions on and to follow what their leader currently promises and supports. This, in turn, will allow the follower to feel confident in and believe in what their leader says and what they will do, which is the very foundation of successful leadership (Moorman et al., 2012).

This concept of “good” is judged through the consistency with which this moral “goodness” is professed and enacted (Dunn, 2009). Thus, the perception of integrity is connected to the idea that a leader is “good” and moral, but a follower’s attributions of integrity also require a very high standard of consistency that would eradicate any concerns that followers may have about the leader’s moral virtue (Moorman et al., 2012). This final element brings together both the morality and consistency elements of our definition of integrity into a follower’s understanding of a leader’s integrity and inherent “goodness”.

If one’s leader succeeds in acting in accordance with these standards, they will most importantly be judged against the informal norms and values expected by stakeholders. This third layer is simultaneously the most important as well as the most difficult to model, which is what we will try to clear up in the following section.

Let me attempt at reminding the audience of the public perception of the key leaders of Nigerians First Republic, the premiers, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Michael Okpara and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Northern, Eastern and Western regions respectively. The three of them individually exhibited consistent ethnical conduct in the way they conducted government business. For example, Chief Obafemi Awolowo lived in his personal Oke-Ado residence in Ibadan and rode in his own personal car throughout his leadership of the Western Region. The frugal manner by which government funds were utilized for the maximum benefit of the people remain matchless till date. For example, during the Western Delegation attendances at the 1957/58 Conferences to agree on the independence constitution, one of the delegates fell sick and was rushed to the hospital by colleagues. At dinner with the Leader, Chief Awolowo, the plight of the sick delegate was reported to him. After dinner, Chief Awolowo went into his room and came back with some amount which he handed as his own contribution for the treatment of the sick delegate.  He encouraged others in the delegation to make their own contributions to pay the medical bill of their sick colleague. Some delegates silently suggested that since they were on official delegation, government should pay the medical expenses, but Chief Awolowo replied that he was not going to approve government funding just as a rule because it was possible that a delegate during his private socialization and clubbing caught gonorrhea, that it will be immoral and unethical to use government funding to cover such medical expenses. That was the extent to which those leaders were willing to lead by example.

I saw and experienced it myself that the three premiers respectively hardly had up to four vehicles on the premier’s entourage. Most times it was just the police outriders leading the premier vehicle and a spare vehicle behind the official car.


Integrity in action

“Recognizing that we are capable of speaking and acting on our values, as well as the fact that we have not always done so, is both empowering and enlightening … it opens a path to self-knowledge, as well as situational analysis, that we may otherwise short-circuit” – Mary Gentle, Giving Voice to Values.

No Leader is perfect, and thus the challenge of leading with integrity lies in developing integrity, acting with integrity, and repairing trust if you happen to misstep.


Developing integrity

(i). Your values must define your character, your values must define you. Of all other means of assessment, the most important method is through self-awareness and reflection, therefore it’s important for leaders to know their values and what they stand for;

(ii). A leader who has integrity must have a keen understanding of what the followers, teammates and organization value. No leader is an island and he can only be as “good” as his followers believe the leader to be. Thus, there is a need to know the assessment parameters, i.e. know the standards by which leaders conduct are assessed and measured. (iii) A leader who has discovered what he/she stands for must take the next step of shouting the held values from the rooftops. As a leader either in the public or private life, your employees, and teammates should be able to roll off your values of their tongues without hesitation. (iv) Furthermore, Harry Jansen Kruemer Jr., Kellogg School of Management states “Your leadership must be rooted in who you are and what matter most to you”. For example, it’s a popular saying that action speaks louder than words; as Mark Lipton’s book contains, “leaders, above all must walk the talk”. Therefore, living and leading with integrity can be seen as a product of values –based leadership. According to the Royal Roads Values Based Leadership Institute, values based leadership is defined as the exercise of influence in relationships, teams, organizations and communities through choices and decisions guided by explicit and consistently practised values that balance publicly.

If your espoused values are included in their judgment of your integrity, you are more likely to receive more favourable integrity assessment. In addition, since most followers tend to emulate their leaders, you will help to instill powerful values in your team members, which will cause a trickle-down effect of integrity driven leadership. (v) Dean (2008) in his powerful exposition on leadership integrity states that “Evidently, acting with integrity and value based leadership go hand in hand and are often interchangeable. Regardless of the title, the key takeaway is the idea of knowing what you believe to be the “right thing” and doing it consistently, no matter the situation. Kraemer, 2011 suggested four principles of values-based leadership, that is sure that what is doing is the “right thing” and named them as Self-reflection; Balance, True Self-Confidence and Genuine humility.


Correcting your mistakes: trust repair

Martin Fox of the ‘The’ Centre for Global Leadership states that “Integrity is one of those few things in life that can’t be taken from you –you can only give it away”.

He therefore suggested that leaders with integrity should do the following among others, namely:  (a.) Refine your skill –set and mindset: He reminds us all that nobody is perfect and certainly no leader is perfect, regardless of his or her strength and abilities. When there are errors, the leader must admit his/her mistake clearly and painstakingly so that followers are in no doubt and tell them what steps you are taking to rectify the error. By taking personal responsibility for restoring trust, we must sacrifice our ego, but it will be worth it in the end as it demonstrates genuine humility and true intentions. Rebuilding trust takes time, to begin the process, Michael Hyatt lists four things that you can commit to in order to rebuild the trust that you have lost (Hyatt, 2012). He suggested the following:

(i.) Keeping your word

(ii.) Telling the truth

(iii.) Being transparent

(iv.) Giving without strings attached.


In a further reflection, John C. Maxwell states that “A Leader is one who knows the way, shows the way and goes the way”. He explained that utilizing your skills to rebuild trust is an essential first step, but it is only half of the battle. Just as fire cannot burn without oxygen in the air, trust and integrity cannot thrive without right environmental surroundings. Again, he said that to build an environment where integrity can thrive, then, there must be ample opportunity for those three essential elements i.e. a leader must engage in two distinct activities (1) being a moral leader and (2) being a moral manager (Dutton & Spreitzer).

Size does matter: whether or not you can space influence your integrity?

Columbia Business Researchers conclusions indicate that our body postures instinctively adjust to our setting, such that they will be expanded or contracted, depending on the size of our space. Also, that the bigger your physical space is at work, the more apt you may be to compromise your integrity and engage in dishonest behaviour. Furthermore, that these expansive posture lead us to feel more powerful which can render people less honest. This phenomenon can also be seen outside of the office. For example, a field study of the size of driver seats in cars found that the more expansive the driver’s seat, the more likely the car was to be illegally parked. The Nigerian Military having staged a violent insurrection against Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s Federal Government on January 15th, 1966 had since then undermined and denied Nigeria the opportunities of building up a core of effective, productive and credible leaders who can be exemplary public officials to which the younger ones can aspire to copy and behave in their manner. (We remember the Adebos, Mongunos, etc).

While the politicians in military uniforms have always levied allegations of corruption and fraudulent lifestyles against the Civilians running the governments they overthrew in 1966 and 1983, it had always turned out that the military junta in successions were worse mercenaries, more brazenly corrupt and perverted Homo-sapiens than the civilian politicians. Members of the audience should remember that General Murtala Mohammed 1975 probe of the 12 military governors, disclosed that only Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson of Lagos State and Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi were cleared of corruption. Only Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Alhaji Ali Monguno were the Civilian Ministers cleared of corruptions. The properties confiscated from those found guilty were returned to them by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida for dubious reasons.

Gen. Babangida and Gen. Abacha regimes retain the negative reputations of being the highest promoters of government infidelity, financial brigandage and incredible financial misuse of public fund. At a time in Abeokuta, the then Chief of Staff, Admiral Aikhomu attempted to tutor Nigerians about the difference between financial misappropriation, misallocation and misapplication. It was a sad tale to tell till date. The Nigerian State is still recovering back from abroad part of the USD billions that Gen. Abacha stole and deposited abroad. The audience will remember the unsavoury but true statement of David Cameron, British Prime Minister to President Buhari about the “fabulous” level of corruption in Nigeria. Yet the politician in military uniform for their dubious and selfish desire to control power and authorities over government purse regularly staged coup d’etats and have turned themselves into billionaires and business tycoons and so on till date. That constitute total disregard to leadership with integrity. Rather than allow Nigeria to grow its leadership, they usually rubbished civilian politicians as inept, clueless. But they have never responded to our interrogations which had always included whether or not there is any job or assignment where people don’t need to be trained and retrained for perfection. It’s never heard off that a carpenter had been asked to drive an armoured car neither is it allowed to ask a tailor to go and perform surgery on patients in the hospital. Thus, the military by forcing themselves into political offices for which they were untrained undermined significantly to our underdevelopment and our national crisis. Many of the military leaders have committed grave errors of judgments that have led to the death of hundreds and thousands of troops under their commands e.g. Asaba, River Niger under, Col. Murtala Mohammed who ignored the warnings of Lt. Col. Akinrinade and Col. Olusegun Obasanjo at Ohoba, near Owerri now in Imo State during the civil war. Yet they were not even disciplined nor retired and Nigerians did not disband the Army for their many human and professional errors. In addition their over inflated personal egos (between Gowon and Ojukwu) was principally responsible along with other irreconcilable positions led Nigeria to the avoidable three years civil war.

Under Gen. Gowon’s watch, Nigerian witnessed avoidable but costly cement Amanda and had to call in Brigadier Adekunle, the Black Scorpion, to lead a task force to free the Lagos port of over supplied imported cement that led to demurrage for many innocent importers. When the Military Junta led by General Buhari seized power in December 1983 he pronounced that all politicians as discredited and locked them up. They were tried by Miscellaneous Tribunals that were pronouncing 21 calendar years jail terms for all manner of frivolous charges that could not stand judicial scrutiny. For example, Chief Solomon Daushep Lar, former Governor of Plateau State, was discharged on the first three counts but convicted for contributing to economic adversity of Plateau State. Gen. Babangida’s arrival led to the establishment of many other judicial panels which discharged and or released many of these politicians. In the process. Many credible persons reasoned that Nigerian politics had no place for decency,  for example, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, whose positive monuments remain lasting legacies in Ondo State and a host of younger, dynamic, professional ones opted out of politics generally.

Most Nigerian public institutions, Industries and Organizations have had reversals of fortunes because their leadership were not imbued with the necessary quality of morality and integrity. Remember the regular cases Nigeria has witnessed in the banking industry –where directors usually device means to take out depositors money as loans which they did not intend to pay back and for which they never provided the necessary collaterals. Their conduct have led to banking collapse, leading to some drastic steps from the Central Bank of Nigeria. Our nation has acutely suffered untold hardship as a result of deficit of leadership with integrity. We have seen situations where the Joint Account of State and Local Government           Council becoming easy target for misappropriation and misuse by State Governors thereby denying the LGA the needed fund for any development. There are instances where LGA Chairmen who refused to cooperate were dismissed e.g. in Kwara State.

The various probes at the national level, Special Investigation Panel, SIP exposed how money meant to purchase arms to prosecute the war against terrorism were misappropriated by several top military brass. Many have entered into plea bargain, many properties and illegal funds are being retrieved by the Anti-Corruption agencies. But there are too many instances of loopholes created for some to escape. How can anyone explain the mystery surrounding the corruption allegations against Maina, the erstwhile Chairman of Ad hoc Committee on Police Pension Matter. There was a conspiracy that was hatched and Maina was brought back from Dubai and returned to office as a Director after he could not account for N29 billion. It was the public outcry that led to his re-disappearance before he was re-arrested by INTERPOL and now being prosecuted by the EFCC. Nigerian politicians have exhibited lack of integrity often times. In the 2nd Republic, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe said, he had the right to change his mind at any time. This was when he failed to fulfil a promise he made to Nigerians.

Decamping and carpet crossing are the easy pastimes of many politicians particularly since Gen. Babangida monetised and commercialised Nigerian politics. Integrity, honour, virtue and general good quality of live never matter again. All you need in most situations are truckloads of money with which you can bribe the electorate to vote for you, to buy the electoral officers to be favourable to you, to buy the security officers to cooperate with whatever illegality you and your agents are executing and finally to buy judgment at the election tribunal. No country ever develops with this kind of mindset that has gross deficit of leadership integrity. The ruling party is always baiting the opposition to decamp so that they can be part of the stealing and looting of the public treasury. All hopes are not lost for Nigeria because while virtually all sectors of our country including the religious affairs have been negatively impacted, there are still oasis of decent people that are outstandingly qualified, to lead  and or are leading with integrity.


Moving forward with integrity: leaders must behave well

Leading with integrity warrants some clear examples of what it looks like when it is done well. Listen to these few leaders who have gotten integrity right.

  1. “The qualities of a great man are “vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the power of articulation, and profundity of character”. Dwight Eisenhower
  2. “Think P.I.G. –that’s my motto. P stands for Persistence, I stands for Integrity, and G stands for Guts. These are the ingredients for a successful business and a successful life”. Linda Chandler
  3. “Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity”. W. Clement Stone
  4. “Supporting the truth, even when it is unpopular, shows the capacity for honesty and integrity”. Steve Brunkhorst
  5. “As you experience changes and breakthroughs, know that integrity, honesty and truth are the highest vibrating energies to guide you forward. Everything else will fall away”. Molly McCord
  6. “Integrity is the seed for achievement. It is the principle that never fails”. Earl Nightingale
  7. “We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles”. Jimmy Carter
  8. “People with integrity do what they say they are going to do. Others have excuses”. Dr. Laura Schlesinger
  9. “The wind might cause a kite to rise, but what keeps it up there is the fact that somebody on the ground has a steady hand. You have to hold steady to your values –your integrity. It’s your anchor. You let go of that… well, it isn’t long before your kite comes crashing down”. Mark Victor Hansen and Robert G. Allen
  10. “Admitting one’s own faults is the first step to changing them, and it is a demonstration of true bravery and integrity”. Philip Johnson
  11. “Integrity is the ingredient that will enable you to forge rapidly ahead on the highway that leads to success. It advertises you as being an individual who will always come through. Whatever you say you will do, do it even if you have to move heaven and earth”. Mary Kay
  12. “Your level of integrity, ethical behaviour and sense of fairness will contribute to your success –or lack of it –over the long term”. Anonymous
  13. “Integrity lies in, doing what one speaks; speaking what one does”. M. K. Soni
  14. “The personal cost of keeping your own ethics sound and true may seem a bit of a burden at times but that is a minimal price to pay to be true to yourself. There is absolutely no advantage to changing or altering a set of ethics that portray a person of value and integrity”. Byron Pulsifer
  15. “Walk with honour, character, and integrity in all that you do. Do these things and you will find that you can appreciate the adventure of life and live with greater ease”. Shawn L. Anderson
  16. “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not”. Oprah Winfrey
  17. “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have”. Abraham Lincoln
  18. “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence”. Frederick Douglass
  19. “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind”. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  20. “In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot”. Czeslaw Milosz


Nigeria certainly has become a country where anything is possible, with no national ethos, ethical standard and or value we hold dear. From this summit, let all of us do self-introspection as to whether or not we are leading with integrity. Nigeria is among the list of most corrupt nations in the World Corruption Perceptions Index.


2019 Score          2018 Score

Nigeria  26           27

South Africa       44           43

Egypt     35           35

Algeria  35           35

Angola  26           19


The report states that after marginal score increases over the past three years, Nigeria’s anti-corruption score has now slipped back to its 2015 level when Buhari first took office.  Painfully again, Nigeria has become a country of opposites where we import what we have (petroleum) and export what we don’t have (democracy). With a concerted determination on the part of the leaders to imbibe, nurture and live by integrity, there is a possibility that Nigeria might be able to respond to its manifest destiny which requires us to provide leadership for the black race as we have the largest black population globally.

Excerpts of a speech given by Ayo Opadokun as a guest speaker at the third national civil leadership summit powered by the Nigerian Baptist Convention, Baptist theological seminary, Directorate of Ecumenism and Interfaith, and Bowen university, held at Bowen university, Iwo, Osun State on July 13, 2021.


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