In the April issue of Harvard Business Review, there is an article about calculating the financial returns of organizations run by CEOs who score strongly on character traits such as integrity—the ROI of integrity being fairly high when compared to CEOs who do not exhibit integrity. The author of the book Return on Character, Fred Kiel, argues that leaders that value integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion earn a higher return on assets than those who do not. This aligns with plenty of previous research on the importance of leaders modeling positive character traits such as honesty or caring about others. Yet, in some business circles we still believe that those who succeed put numbers before behavior, financials before relationships, and returns before ethics. Worse, we tolerate CEOs who engage in less than ethical behavior, and sometimes reward them with lucrative packages and bonuses.
Let me be clear: I believe in business; it’s a powerful force in our world and can do amazing things for individuals and communities. Why would we entrust such a powerful tool to those who don’t value responsibility? It makes me crazy that we are willing to put up with anything less than CEOs of high moral character. No one is perfect, of course, but if CEOs are the best of the best, if they are the stars of our organizations, then why would we put anyone in the seat who was not our best business person as well as our model of high integrity? Our organizations, our employees, our communities and our customers deserve both.