Integrity: Where Leadership Begins - A New Model of Integrity (PDF File of PowerPoint Slides)

43 Pages Posted: 11 May 2007 Last revised: 18 May 2013

See all articles by Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard


Michael C. Jensen

Harvard Business School; SSRN; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); Harvard University - Accounting & Control Unit

Steve Zaffron

Landmark Worldwide LLC; Vanto Group

Date Written: June 18, 2007


Presented at the Center for Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Boston, MA, May 10, 2007.

We present a positive model of integrity that provides powerful access to increased performance for individuals, groups, organizations, and societies. Our model reveals the causal link between integrity as we distinguish and define it, and increased performance and value-creation for all entities. And our model provides access to that causal link.

The philosophical discourse, and common usage as reflected in dictionary definitions, leave an overlap and confusion among the four phenomena of integrity, morality, ethics, and legality. This confounds the terms so that the efficacy and potential power of each of them is seriously diminished.

In this new model, we distinguish all four phenomena – integrity, morality, ethics, and legality – as existing within two separate realms, and within those realms as belonging to distinct and separate domains. Integrity exists in a positive realm devoid of normative content. Morality, ethics and legality exist in a normative realm of virtues, but in separate and distinct domains. This new model: 1) encompasses all four terms in one consistent theory, 2) makes the “moral compass” potentially available in each of the three virtue phenomena clear and unambiguous, and 3) does this in a way that raises the likelihood of those now clear moral compasses actually shaping human behavior.

This all falls out primarily from the unique treatment of integrity in our model as a purely positive phenomenon, independent of normative value judgments. Integrity is thus not about good or bad, or right or wrong, or what should or should not be.

We distinguish integrity as a phenomenon of the objective state or condition of an object, system, person, group, or organizational entity, and define integrity as: a state or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound, perfect condition.

We assert that integrity (the condition of being whole and complete) is a necessary condition for workability, and that the resultant level of workability determines the available opportunity for performance. Hence, the way we treat integrity in our model provides an unambiguous and actionable access to superior performance (however one wishes to define performance).

For an individual we distinguish integrity as a matter of that person's word being whole and complete, and for a group or organizational entity as what is said by or on behalf of the group or organization being whole and complete. In that context, we define integrity for an individual, group, or organization as: Honoring one's word.

Oversimplifying somewhat, honoring your word as we define it means you either keep your word (do what you said you would do and by the time you said you would do it), or as soon as you know that you will not, you say that you will not to those who were counting on your word and clean up any mess caused by not keeping your word.

Honoring your word is also the route to creating whole and complete social and working relationships. In addition, it provides an actionable pathway to earning the trust of others.

We demonstrate that the application of cost-benefit analysis to one's integrity guarantees you will not be a trustworthy person (thereby reducing the workability of relationships), and with the exception of some minor qualifications ensures also that you will not be a person of integrity (thereby reducing the workability of your life). Therefore your performance will suffer. The virtually automatic application of cost-benefit analysis to honoring one's word (an inherent tendency in most of us) lies at the heart of much out-of-integrity and untrustworthy behavior in modern life.

In conclusion, we show that defining integrity as honoring one's word provides 1) an unambiguous and actionable access to superior performance and competitive advantage at both the individual and organizational level, and 2) empowers the three virtue phenomena.

Keywords: Moral, Ethical, Legal, Performance, Quality of Life, Sincerity

Suggested Citation

Erhard, Werner and Jensen, Michael C. and Zaffron, Steve and Zaffron, Steve, Integrity: Where Leadership Begins - A New Model of Integrity (PDF File of PowerPoint Slides) (June 18, 2007). Barbados Group Working Paper No. 07-03, Harvard NOM Working Paper No. 07-03, Available at SSRN: or

Michael C. Jensen (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field
Negotiations, Organizations & Markets
Boston, MA 02163
United States


SSRN ( email )

United States


National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels

Harvard University - Accounting & Control Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Steve Zaffron

Landmark Worldwide LLC

353 Sacramento St.
Suite 200
San Francisco, CA 94111
United States

Vanto Group ( email )

353 Sacramento Street
Suite 200
San Francisco, CA 94111
United States

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