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I am a M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology. Most of my experience has been in human resources and change management. My passion lies in employee assessment, organizational development and employee opinions. Website: www.IanMondrow.com LinkedIn Profile: http://linkd.in/drBYoC

Monday, January 31, 2011

How to (and how not to) assess the integrity of leaders

Summary & Commentary by Ian Mondrow, M.A. in Industrial / Organizational Psychology

Ethics and integrity are often used interchangeably but they are clearly differentiated. Ethics are the desirable behaviors established by society that establish “right” and “wrong” for its members (Pojman, 1995 as cited in Kaiser & Hogan, 2010). In contrast, integrity is the moral attribution we apply to one’s observed behavior (Kaiser & Hogan, 2010). Current assessments are unable to measure integrity directly and therefore it is indirectly measured through other constructs, such as the Five-Factor Model of personality. Unfortunately, Personality does not predict future behaviors.  It is suggested that measuring one’s personality results in skewed results and managers tend to be rated higher than they actually are. One’s previous experiences and reputation provide a more reliable source for measuring one’s integrity.

Kaiser & Hogan (2010) decide to research the use of integrity testing in more detail. Data was collected from 672 directors and vice-presidents from Fortune 500 companies and included ratings from approximately 5 subordinates for each individual. Using a 23 item questionnaire with a 5 point likert scale (0 = ineffective and 4 = extremely effective), leaders were assessed on 5 competencies: vision, execution, managerial courage, building talent and integrity. A t-test demonstrated that integrity scores were generally higher than any other construct. The smallest difference (which was statistically significant) occurred between integrity (M = 2.68, SD =.40) and execution ( M = 2.31, SD = .42) with a difference of .92 in standard deviation, t(671) = 22.88,  p < .001. Not one leader received a score of 1, which is considered minimally acceptable. A tukey’s post examination revealed no statistical significance for integrity. This demonstrates that this method does not effectively differentiate those with low integrity from those with high integrity. It continues to reveal that managers are always provided favorable scores when being assessed on integrity.

Following the initial study, Kaiser & Hogan decided to try a new approach of assessing integrity. The approach does not ask evaluators to refer to observed behavior but asks the likelihood that a manager will engage in questionable behavior. 80 students from a southeastern university were recruited to participate in the following study. Participants were asked to rate their current managers using the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBD) – Form XII (Stogdill, 1963) and the shortened version of the Perceived Leader Integrity Scale (PLIS) [focusing on perceived integrity]. Unlike the LBD, higher scores on the PLIS are less desirable as a higher score demonstrates a greater probability of unethical behavior. Additional items were used to measure the perceived effectiveness of a supervisor and job satisfaction. The smallest difference occurred between initiating structure (M = 2.37, SD = .83) and  perceived integrity (M = 2.66, SD = .97), t(79) = 3.48, p < .001. Participants were more comfortable rating managers below the median (2), which did not even occur in the previous method, Therefore, the PLIS is three times less elevated than the previous methodology, which had a standard deviation of .90. The analysis also exposed that the PLIS correlated with job satisfaction and perceived effectiveness of a manager. It can be assumed that if managers are perceived as ethical, employees will generally have higher levels of job satisfaction.

There are several limitations to consider in this study. First off, the samples in both studies are entirely different. Students may rate managers differently as there is less of a chance that they work full-time. They may have also worked for different companies and therefore was a variance in organizational culture.


It is important to mention that if ethical testing is used in any selection process, it must demonstrate validity. Therefore, a company must be able to demonstrate that the test predicts successful performance in case the test experiences adverse impact.

Organizations can now more effectively measure the integrity of their employees by utilizing a system similar to the PLIS. Instead of measuring personality, the assessment can focus on the likelihood that one will perform unethical behavior. There is no need to argue why as the study above provides statistical proof. To increase its creditability, upcoming studies should look at a variety of samples to ensure it is applicable to the real world. 

The study does provide significant findings that are applicable to performance appraisals. Since the perceived integrity is found to increase job satisfaction, which can reduce turnover and increase performance. It is better to be proactive than reactive when battling integrity. By instilling a culture that values ethical behavior, managers are less likely to participate in questionable behavior. Encouraging executives to communicate and model the ethical behaviors can reinforce the culture. Supervisors that are already demonstrating unethical behavior or low levels of integrity can be difficult to develop, especially since their creditability may already be shot.

Source: Kaiser, R.B., Hogan, R. (2010). How to (and how not to) assess the integrity of managers. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 62(4), Dec 2010, 216-234.

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