Toolbox | An Integrity Self-Test for Leaders


Boy flying drone


By Dave Martin

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

—Dwight D. Eisenhower

  • It is essential for every leader.
  • It cannot be bought.
  • It cannot be delegated.
  • It is recognized across all cultures, races and eras.
  • It is wholly unassociated with economic status.
  • It is the ultimate measure of a leader, whether in business or in the legislature.

Although many people struggle to completely define integrity, most everyone can recognize it. You know someone you trust completely. You know someone whose word is her bond. You know someone who would not compromise, who would tell the truth, who would stand by his promises, even when it hurt him. Integrity is doing the right thing. The question we all ask ourselves is, “Am I that ‘someone’ other people think of when asked to name a person of integrity?”

The following self-test has five questions. The answers are for you alone, and the only way for the test to work is for you to answer the questions honestly. It is not about perfection. It is not about comparison. Integrity is personal. If, as you read the questions, you begin to think that your initial personal integrity evaluation was perhaps optimistic, do not despair. Integrity is built over a lifetime of doing the right thing. Appreciate that your attention has been drawn to this area and let it make your future decisions more considered and intentional.

How would you react in the following scenarios?



You have just heard an extremely compromising—but unfounded—bit of information about the guy at your office who has the position you desire. Should he move on, there is a very strong possibility you will be promoted to his position. This move would almost double your current salary. Furthermore, you have never liked the guy. Do you casually share the gossip?


You were delayed at the capitol, then you were stuck in traffic for an extra 45 minutes, and you have a pressing dinner engagement. As you walk in the door, the phone rings and your teen says, “It’s for you. It’s that constituent that talks forever!” You say, “Just tell him I was delayed, and I’m not home yet.” Yes or no?


You are a newly selected leader of your caucus, responsible for ensuring that members promote your caucus’ positions, engage in healthy debate and support each other. In campaigning for your new position, you told some caucus members that if they supported you as leader, you would appoint them to their committee of choice. Now that you are leader, one of those members would like to be chair of an influential committee, but another caucus member is better qualified and has the support of other members of the leadership team. Do you keep your word and place your supporter as chair of the committee or do you thank him for his support and offer another position?


On your way back to the statehouse from an early meeting, you stop for coffee. The line is long and by the time you have your latte, you sincerely wish you had opted for the drive-through. You hand the barista a $20 bill, and she gives you change. As you are leaving, you realize that instead of giving you a $10 and change, she mistakenly gave you a $20 and change. Do you go back to return the extra $10, or do you consider it your lucky day? After all, you did have to wait!


Your child desperately wants to play in the city soccer league, and the teams are based on your geographic location. The team roster for your area is full, but the team where your sister lives has one remaining opening. Do you put her address on the application so your child can play soccer this year?

Integrity. It is a quality of being—not of doing—but the great paradox is, it is completely based on what one does. It has been said a leader without integrity is just a manager. This statement may be viewed through many lenses, but certainly, the true determination of a leader is in the loyalty he or she inspires in others. To engender a willingness to follow, integrity is indeed essential.

Integrity is doing the right thing, every time. It is being upstanding and honorable. Great leaders have integrity. This means they will do exactly what they say they will do. Circumstances may change. New situations may arise. The agreement may no longer be beneficial. Nevertheless, the great leader will keep her word. He will not compromise principles for convenience or advantage.

Are you a leader or a manager?

Dave Martin is a speaker and the author of “The 12 Traits of the Greats” and “Another Shot: A Game Plan for Rebounding in Life.” For more than 25 years, Martin has been a mentor, speaker, coach and business leader. For more information, visit Stacy Householder, NCSL’s director of leaders’ services and legislator training, contributed to this article.

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