Why does it matter if leaders have integrity? How do followers respond to leaders with high and low integrity? Is it possible for ineffective leaders to develop integrity? And what, specifically, defines integrity?

It’s a concept most people recognize on the surface, but Robert Moorman, the Frank S. Holt, Jr. Professor of Business Leadership, wants to understand the nuances of it. Business leadership scholars generally view integrity as one of the most important characteristics of effective leaders, but less certain are the reasons why integrity matters to followers, and how impressions of integrity affect the relationship between leaders and followers.

In one of his earliest studies of integrity, Moorman asked survey participants, “What do you think integrity means?” Two key themes emerged – consistency and morality. Consistency itself builds trust because it demonstrates leaders are reliable in what they say and do. Morality indicates leaders are not only consistent in their actions but also hold positive values, creating a deeper level of trust and a more committed relationship with followers.

One of Moorman’s current studies measures how both factors influence follower behavior. He surveyed working professionals on their impressions of their supervisor and their supervisor’s integrity. Over time, he assessed outcomes such as the employees’ performance, job satisfaction and commitment to their boss, and his findings indicate a relationship between a positive perception of leader integrity and positive follower outcomes in the workplace.

Another study Moorman is conducting with Associate Professor of Management Brian Lyons examines whether integrity can help leaders with otherwise negative characteristics course-correct. For example, followers often have a negative view of narcissistic or Machiavellian leaders. But the study’s early results indicate if that leader’s actions are consistent, then they can have a more productive relationship even with reluctant followers.

The research shows that leaders who exhibit only this form of integrity are likely to have less committed followers than leaders who also demonstrate moral integrity. Consistency can ease the negative impact of a bad leader’s flaws and foster some level of understanding with conflicted followers, but this and other studies suggest moral integrity is crucial if leaders want highly committed, trusting followers.

In studying leadership, I’m studying something that has a pretty important influence on many high-quality outcomes. I like the idea of researching things with a clear and obvious purpose.

Moorman has published more than 30 journal articles on leadership and organizational behavior and is one of the most cited authors in his field. Next, he is interested in exploring the mindset of employees who go above and beyond in their job performance versus those who are more inclined to do the bare minimum, and how leader integrity may influence that behavior.

Moorman’s research has implications beyond business, offering new insights into the psychology behind follower responses to certain types of leaders. In addition to expanding the literature in his field, Moorman’s work has practical applications. It sheds light on the intricacies of the leader-follower dynamic, and how understanding those nuances can lead to more effective relationships in the workplace – both deeper relationships with high-integrity leaders and improved relationships with imperfect leaders.