Leadership and the Quest for Integrity





Back cover

“In its unique synthesis of practical experience and sound conceptual analysis, this book will provide stimulus, insight, and vision even to the accomplished and successful executive.”

Peter F. Drucker

Front cover

What distinguishes leaders from ordinary managers? The conventional answers are charisma, skill at professional management, or the ability to change one’s style to fit the situation.

This book takes a different stance, one that will challenge your personal assumptions about leadership. Drawing on extensive interviews with nationally recognized CEOs, Joseph L. Badaracco and Richard R. Ellsworth explain how certain prejudices can guide managers through the complex, rapidly changing world in which they work. In the opening chapters, they describe three distinct philosophies of leadership: political leadership, directive leadership, and values-driven leadership. Each is a consistent set of ideas about human nature, organizations, and the ways leaders should handle their daily work. But these philosophies contradict each other, forcing you to confront and rethink your own beliefs about leadership.

The conflicts among the philosophies also highlight classic managerial dilemmas – vexing problems that managers face everyday. Should a problem be solved through confrontation or compromise? When setting goals, is clarity or flexibility more important? To what extent should a decision reflect top-down or bottom-up influence? When is the way a problem is resolved more important than the solution itself? When should a leader respond to tangible, immediate pressures, or to less certain, intangible considerations?

In the second part of the book, the authors show that resolving these dilemmas is at bottom a matter of integrity: a daily quest for consistency among one’s personal beliefs, vision for an organization, and behavior. Managers who approach these issues with courage and with certain prejudices – that is, biases to handle these problems in particular ways – are on the surest path to leadership.

The executives interviewed include the current or former chief executive officers of Citicorp, Colgate-Palmolive, Conoco, Du Pont, Johnson & Johnson, Teradyne, and Time Inc. The practical experiences they share and the insights that Leadership and the Quest for Integrity provides give invaluable guidance to managers who must deal with the messy realities and trade-offs of today’s business world.

About the authors

Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr. is Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Richard R. Ellsworth is Associate Professor of Management at the Claremont Graduate School.



Why is it so hard for managers to create the kind of teams, departments, and companies that they want? Managers know what an ideal organization is. Its goals are clear, it innovates, attracts high-caliber talent, challenges them with high standards, and promotes on the basis of merit. The ideal organization is immune to bureaucracy. It is ethical and inspiring. Its economic performance is outstanding.

Few managers live and work in this ideal, ethereal realm. For most of them, daily work is a messy reality of trade-offs and dilemmas. The reason is simple. The problems and questions that reach senior managers usually cannot be answered by specialized techniques or skills. Otherwise, they would have been delegated to someone else. In real organizations, the most difficult, anxiety-provoking, and dilemma-ridden problems rise to the top.

In this world of gray areas and judgment calls, managers need guidance – some way of resolving dilemmas – in order to build the kind of organization they want. This book provides such guidance, for it is a book about leadership. It answers the question of what distinguishes the men and women who create extraordinary organizations from workaday professional managers. Managers who build records of achievement do so through the ways in which they resolve dilemmas. These are difficult issues of thought and action that test all managers and separate leaders from capable, dependable managers. They also distinguish bright, idea-driven people who merely dream from hands-on leaders who figure out how, when, and whether something should be done, and then do it.

We argue that managers are much more likely to excel if they approach their dilemmas with certain prejudices. We use “prejudice” in its literal sense. That is, we believe managers should approach dilemmas with preconceived biases toward handling them in certain ways. The rationale for these prejudices is a quest for integrity, an effort that is at once moral, philosophical, and practical – for it strives to achieve coherence among a manager’s daily actions, personal values, and basic aims for his or her organization.

This book differs greatly from much of the conventional wisdom on leadership and management. Many people believe that leadership is essentially a matter of charisma – a rare, elusive, transforming characteristic that sets leaders apart and impels others to follow them. This view is not false, but it is sorely inadequate and misleading. If leadership rests on a barely describable trait of a handful of men and women, then others must resign themselves to simply plodding forward in their appointed tasks. Worse, reducing leadership to charisma ignores the facts. The vast majority of business leaders have succeeded, not through charisma, but through experience, judgment, boldness, tenacity, and hard work. By itself, charisma is neither necessary nor sufficient for business leadership.

  • Another common view is that training in professional management can help managers achieve outstanding results. This idea waxes and wanes.
  • The performance resulting from professional management has often proved disappointing. Instead of leading to outstanding performance, its adoption has paralleled our competitive decline.

Each year, more than 60,000 MBAs graduate, thousands of managers complete executive education programs, business books detailing the latest techniques climb near the top of bestseller lists, companies spend billions of dollars on consulting fees, and thousands of executives migrate among companies. As a result, management techniques are rapidly transferred within an increasingly fluid market – and the advantage gained from applying the latest techniques is, at best, transient.

  • In their preoccupation with technique, many professional managers and business academics have made management so complicated that they miss some obvious yet critical aspects of business leadership.
  • The extraordinary success of In Search of Excellence – one of the bestselling books of all times – is powerful evidence of a certain hollowness in the notion of professional management.
  • The book’s enormous sales were a populist revolt against management theoreticians, academics and professionals.
  • Management technique is useful, sometimes critical, but it is no surrogate for leadership.
  • Along with charisma and professional management, we reject a third commonplace view of outstanding management. It may be summarized in three words: “It all depends.”

In the end, there is a single powerful reason why charisma, professional management, and style are inadequate ways for managers to approach and resolve the dilemmas they face. Resolving dilemmas involves a person’s philosophy of management. Whether they believe it or not, all managers have them. These philosophies are tacit, not explicit. The philosophies involve fundamental assumptions about human nature, about people in organizations, about the work of managers, and the kind of activities that lead to outstanding results. Like a geological deposit, these tacit philosophies build up over many years through the experiences and influences that shape a person’s life. Few managers stop, reflect on, and make explicit their philosophies of management and leadership. But these deep assumptions influence almost everything they do.

The first part of the book describes three of the most common philosophies of management. Each is an internally consistent set of assumptions about human nature, people in organizations, the work of managers, and the ways leaders should work day-by day. Each philosophy reflects traditions of thought that reach back several centuries as well as contemporary ideas raised frequently in the business press and in the MBA classrooms. Yet the philosophies clash with each other and offer conflicting advice to managers.

As you read these philosophies, you will find that they conflict with each other and raise two critical, practical questions: Does one or another of the philosophies offer better guidance to managers? How can the philosophies help managers to resolve the dilemmas they face?

In Part II, we answer these questions by analyzing five of the most important dilemmas that managers face. The first is the tension between general, flexible, open-ended approaches to problems and precise, clear approaches. The second is the top-down and bottom-up influence on important decisions. To what extent, for instance, should managers intervene in their subordinates’ activities? What role should they allow others to play in making decisions?

The third dilemma is the conflict between substance and process. Concentrating on substance means working directly to get the right answer to a problem. Concentrating on process means working on the right way of getting the answer.

The fourth dilemma, between confrontation and compromise, arises whenever conflicts occur in an organization – in other words, daily. Almost anything can be the focus of a conflict: minor issues such as who gets what office as well as major ones such as setting strategic goals.

  • Because it takes so many different forms, the last dilemma is difficult to describe in a single, short phrase. Put most succinctly, it is the tension between tangibles and intangibles.
  • In Part II, we show that managers are much more likely to achieve exceptional results if they approach their dilemmas with certain fundamental prejudices.
  • The notion of “prejudices” acknowledges the intrinsic, inescapable messiness of many of the problems managers face.
  • The prejudices that we advocate in the last part of the book are practical guides to resolving the dilemmas we have described.
  • The notion of prejudices avoids two traps into which much of the writing about business management and leadership has fallen.
  • The first trap is trying to give specific, precise rules for outstanding management.
  • The second trap is oversimplification.

Why are the prejudices we advocate the right approach? What makes them the best guide for resolving dilemmas and for thinking through the conflicting philosophies of leadership that pull managers in different directions? The answer to this question lies in understanding what integrity means for managers.

The word “integrity” is familiar but its meaning is complex. In fact, all of Part II is an explanation of the role that integrity plays in leadership. In essence, integrity is consistency between what a manger believes, how a manager acts, and a manager’s aspiration for his or her organization. But not any consistency will do. An incompetent or corrupt manager can be perfectly consistent. But certain beliefs, actions, and aspirations are much more likely than others to lead to outstanding results. The prejudices we advocate reflect these beliefs. Actions based on the prejudices simply translate these beliefs into practice – in the uncertain, often turbulent life of managers. In short, prejudices are a way of making integrity alive, powerful, and effective in a world of dilemmas and conflicting philosophies of management.

  • This argument is based upon a wide range of evidence and ideas.
  • We tested and refined our conclusions through extensive discussions with seven senior executives, each widely respected for records of achievement.

All of them had reflected on the issues raised and that is why they all contributed so greatly to the ideas in this book. Above all, they helped convince us that thinking about leadership in terms of dilemmas, prejudices, and integrity is a powerful source of guidance for managers who want to make a difference.

Chapter 1: Political Leadership

Chapter 2: Directive Leadership

Chapter 3: Values-Driven Leadership




Chapter 4: Clarity and Precision versus Flexibility

Chapter 5: Top-Down versus Bottom-Up Influence

Chapter 6: Substance versus Process

Chapter 7: Confrontation versus Compromise

Chapter 8: Tangibles versus Intangibles

Chapter 9: Integrity in Action



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