Integrity and Trust in Successful Leadership

Written by: Jennifer Scott

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

According to the East Carolina University website, leadership is “a relational process of inspiring, empowering, and influencing positive change” (“Office of the Leadership Collaborative,” 2016). Essentially, what this means is, how well we relate to others determines how successful we will be when assuming leadership roles in the classroom and out in the real world. But, how can we become effective leaders who inspire and empower others while influencing positive changes? Gaining the respect of those around us is a particularly vital component. It is very important to build strong, interpersonal bonds constructed on a solid foundation of integrity and trust. The purpose of this paper is to explore this concept as conveyed by other works and to define how those ideas can be integrated into a three-step plan to be implemented into future small group interactions, regardless of the platform or the environment.

A study conducted by Amos S. Englebrecht and Gardielle Heine, Department of Industrial Psychology, Stellenbosch University, and Bright Mahembe, Department of Industrial Psychology, University of the Western Cape, “indicated positive relationships between ethical leadership and trust in the leader; between integrity and ethical leadership; and between integrity and trust in the leader” (Englebrecht, Heine, & Mahembe, 2015). Trusting a leader involves having the “willingness to accept vulnerability on the basis of positive expectations of the intentions of the leader” (Englebrecht, Heine, & Mahembe, 2015). If the principles and moral values of a leader matches those of a follower, that leader’s actions is more likely to be perceived as trustworthy behavior in the future. The “moral correctness” of a leader is measured against “an agreed upon set of standards of what constitutes right and wrong” (Rothwell, 2013, p. 31). If one fails to live up to those standards, trust in that individual could be permanently diminished.

While it is clear that trust must be established to be respected as an effective leader with integrity, the route to accomplishing such a task may seem quite complicated to maneuver. However, another collaborative study, conducted by graduate students of The University of Melbourne, Australia and The University of Queensland Business School, Australia, with corresponding author, Paulina Lee, Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, suggests  “knowledge sharing” may be the answer (Lee, Gillespie, Mann, & Wearing, 2010). As stated by the article “Leadership and trust: Their effect on knowledge sharing and team performance,” knowledge sharing is “the exchange of explicit and tactic knowledge relevant to the team task” (Lee, Gillespie, Mann, & Wearing, 2010). When a leader shares their own personal knowledge base with other group members, this practice “signals both the leader’s competence (character) and the leader’s positive intentions for the development and performance of the team (relationship)” (Lee, Gillespie, Mann, & Wearing, 2010). Group members who feel the leader of their group can be trusted are more likely to “disclose their views and opinions, and share sensitive work-related information with the leader” (Lee, Gillespie, Mann, & Wearing, 2010).

Once a leader has established a level of acceptable integrity, “follower integrity” increases, along with “trust in the leader, satisfaction with the leader, and leader performance” (Palanski, & Yammarino, 2009). J. Dan Rothwell (2013), author of “In Mixed Company: Communicating in Small Groups and Teams,” tells us leaders should present themselves with a style which radiates an impeccable sense of “credibility,” or “competence,” in the presence of those who look toward them for direction, and, accordingly, followers will do the same (Rothwell, 2013, p. 160). A study published in “The Leadership Quarterly” in 2009 states that when a follower feels a sense of certainty, they are “more likely to become vulnerable to the leader (i.e., to trust the leader) (Palanski, & Yammarino, 2009).  From this, we can conclude that when a leader is known for their integrity, they seem credible to other group members, which helps to develop a sense of trust among all member of the group.

I have been a leader many times in my life – as a mother, as a manager at work, and in online and face-to-face groups for school. Honestly, I feel integrity and trust are the most important factors in any group environment. Without them, the whole group dynamic will be off kilter. Conducting my own study of this topic made me realize I needed to spruce up my own skills as a competent communicator, because “effective team leaders also suppress their egos to encourage a cooperative climate” (Rothwell, 2013, p. 219). To become a more effective leader, I designed a three-step plan which I believe will allow me to become the type of integral leader that others will be inclined to look up to:

Step 1:  Start on a task as soon as possible.

I used to have a bad habit of putting things off until the very last minute. Even though I have turned out some of my very best work under pressure, I do not feel that is the best way to show others I have the ability to lead with integrity. The leaders I look up to not only know the importance of getting a head start on things to make sure they have plenty of time in case there are road blocks along the way, they actually begin a task right away. This behavior used to cause my stress level to rise; so I vowed to make a change, and with some determination and a lot of self-discipline, I have achieved success in that area.

Step 2:  Be less passive and more confident; speak up for my own ideas in groups.

Although I am known for voicing my opinions when I am with the people I am closest to, I struggle to do so in group environments. I have a tendency to become very passive. At times, I think I have come across as a bit stand-offish. I have the best intentions to begin with, but those intentions do not carry me far when I am in a group with others who have more dominate personality traits. I usually let them take over, even when I know my ideas have more merit and make the most sense. Since people with a high amount of integrity are confident in what they do, to remedy this issue, I set out to build my confidence up and start standing up for myself by sharing my ideas with others. What I have found is the more often I practice this concept, the easier it is to share my ideas and my feelings about the ideas of other people I am working with.

Step 3:  Help others without expecting anything in return.

This is something I recently came to terms with. I love helping other people reach their goals, and I always thought I was doing it with no-strings-attached, but that is not entirely true. I have found myself in a situation, more than a few times, where I helped someone with a task, but then I got frustrated and a little angry when they could not, or would not, help me in return. A person with integrity helps people knowing they may not get anything in return, yet, they do it anyway. Out of the three steps I have listed, to me, this is by far the most important. The more I exercise this habit, the easier it becomes.

Originally, I set a goal to implement these steps over a six-month period, because I found it quite difficult to pin down a specific date for accomplishing them, since it was obvious it would take some time to correct those behaviors. And while I have been successful in my endeavors, I know I should continue to strive to master these skills to the best of my ability. How well we relate to others determines how successful we will be in leadership roles. As a leader, it is important to remember “trust is one of the key sources of power and success in leadership” (Lexa, 2012, p. 511). When there is no bond of trust, all communication becomes ineffective. Furthermore, without trust, it is very difficult to receive any level of respect from anyone.

Throughout this process, I have learned a lot about myself, specifically, how I view myself as a leader. I have also been able to pin-point how I can become more effective at leading. Most importantly, I have discovered how to draw on my strengths while working through my weaknesses. One of my greatest aspirations is to be the kind of leader others can look up to in times of perfect harmony or tremendous stress. I want to be known as Jennifer West, a woman who can be trusted, a woman of undeniable integrity.


Engelbrecht, A. S., Heine, G., & Mahembe, B. (2015). The influence of intergrity and ethical leadership on trust in the leader. Management Dynamics, 24(1), 1-10. Retrieved April 24,2016, from

Lee, P., Gillespie, N., Mann, L., & Wearing, A. (2010). Leadership and trust: Their effect on knowledge sharing and team performance. Management Learning, 41(4), 473-491 Retrieved April 24, 2016, from /41/4/473

Lexa, F. J., MD, MBA. (2012, July 01). Leadership and Trust. Journal of the American College of Radiology, 9(7), 510-511. Office of the Leadership Collaborative. (2016). Retrieved April 24, 2016, from

Palanski, M. E., & Yammarino, F. J. (2009). Intergrity and leadership: A multi-level conceptual framework. The Leadership Quarterly, 20(3), 405-420. Retrieved April 24, 2016, from

Rothwell, J. D. (2004). In Mixed Company: Communicating in Small Groups and Teams. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Original article written on November 22, 2016.


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