Education competencies: Integrity and trust

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies .


Is widely trusted; is seen as a direct, truthful individual; presents truthful information in an appropriate and helpful manner; keeps confidences; admits mistakes; doesn't misrepresent himself or herself for personal gain.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Is seen as trustworthy Is widely trusted and seen as a direct, truthful individual Is known to consistently adhere to ethical principles and expects others to follow suit Is known to espouse and apply a high set of ethical and moral principles
Openly values honesty Presents truthful information in an appropriate and helpful manner Is respected as a credible source and a proven confidant Is indisputably trusted to keep confidences and to protect sensitive information, even to his or her own detriment
Understands and values the importance of trust Can be trusted to keep confidences Keeps confidences even when pressured to compromise Keeps confidences and promotes the value of trust and respect for personal confidences throughout the organization
Is conscious of his or her personal value system when faced with difficult situations Consistently applies personal values to appropriately address difficult situations Stays true to his or her values even when it is unpopular to do so Stays true to his or her values, regardless of internal and external pressures

Overdoing integrity and trust

  • May be too direct at times, which may catch people off guard and make them uncomfortable
  • May push openness and honesty to the point of being disruptive
  • May be so "only the facts" driven as to omit drawing reasonable conclusions, rendering opinions, or fixing blame, even when it's reasonable to do so

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:

  • Have I honored my word to protect confidential information?
  • Have I followed through on things that I offered or committed to do when I promised to do them?
  • Am I honest with my feedback and opinions even when they are unpopular in my organization?
  • Do others regard me as having high ethical and moral principles?
  • Am I able to openly admit making mistakes?
  • Have I done something contrary to my ethical or moral principles, and, if so, what steps can I take to make it right?

To avoid overdoing integrity and trust, ask yourself:

  • Am I being tactless for the sake of being completely honest?
  • Am I self-righteous and smug around others whom I know to be less trustworthy?
  • Am I overly concerned with factual information so that I fail to be reasonable and forgiving?

Interview questions

  • People with high integrity and trust adhere to high ethical and moral principles and consistently apply those principles to their circumstances. Describe several very challenging situations that demonstrate your capability in this area.
  • Keeping confidences can be difficult at times, especially when it can be to our own personal detriment to do so. Describe a similar situation in which you were involved.
  • Sometimes, we are pressured to compromise our personal value systems. Describe the most difficult situation when that happened to you.
  • Integrity and trust sometimes involves admitting our shortcomings and mistakes or doing something that is unpopular with others. Share a similar situation in which you found yourself.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Just say it: Speak up when you should, focusing on the facts and the problems. Avoid qualifying and conditional statements; be specific and don't lay blame.
  • Promise only what you can deliver: Accurately state what you can and cannot do. Avoid promises and commitments based upon what you think others want to hear. Honestly deal with mistakes.
  • Keep confidences confidential: Be clear on what others expect you to keep confidential, and then stick to it. Make it clear to others up front that you may not be able to keep performance, ethical, legal, or safety matters in confidence before they tell you. Loose lips sink ships.
  • Honor others' trust in you: Draw the line between what information you can share and what information you cannot compromise, even for the sake of your own advantage.
  • Take responsibility: Admit your mistakes, and accept blame when it's warranted. Make others aware of possible consequences. Learn from your errors so that they won’t be repeated, and move on.
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say: Be consistent in what you say to everyone, not changing your opinion or story to fit your audience or situation.
  • Say what needs to be said: Communicate information when it is appropriate. Make the effort to learn from others what they need to know, and comply if you can.
  • Have the courage to say the hard things: Be forthcoming with information to the proper person(s) when it is necessary to prevent a destructive situation, even if you are uncomfortable doing it. Blowing the whistle at the right time can help to prevent a train wreck.
  • Follow through: Be dependable. Return phone calls; give information when you promise it; perform tasks you say you will. Write things down so you won't forget to do them. Keep to your word.
  • Be worthy of trust: The end does not always justify the means. Promote your agenda without sabotaging others.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Handle a tough negotiation.
  • Troubleshoot a performance or quality problem.
  • Manage a group through a significant crisis.
  • Take on a tough, seemingly undoable project that others have tried and failed.
  • Resolve a conflict between two people or groups.
  • Make peace with an enemy or someone you've disappointed, had trouble with, or don't get along with.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Use multiple models. Select role models of towering strengths (or glaring weaknesses). Learn from characteristics rather than from the whole person.
    • Learn from those in authority. Distance yourself from your feelings, and analyze what these people do and do not do well. Choose to imitate the successful behavior.
    • Learn from mentors and tutors. Be open and non-defensive; solicit and accept feedback.
    • Learn from ineffective behavior. Distance yourself from your feelings, and explore why the ineffective behavior didn't work.
    • Learn from interviewing others. Ask what, how, and why they do what they do, where they learned it, and how they keep it current and relative.
    • Learn by observing others. Objectively study what they do.
    • Be cautious of feedback obtained in temporary and extreme contexts. It likely won't reflect your normal behavior.
    • Be open to feedback. Ask for examples and details; listen; take notes, and keep a journal.
    • Learn from mistakes. Focus on "why" more than "what." Don't avoid similar situations for fear of repeating mistakes, but learn and try again. Don't repeat what went wrong more diligently, but try something new. Look for patterns that may be causing the problem.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Participate in insight events. Take a course designed to assess skills and provide feedback to help you develop self-knowledge.

Recommended readings

  • Batstone, David.Saving the Corporate Soul & (Who Knows?) Maybe Your Own: Eight Principles for Creating and Preserving Wealth and Well-Being for You and Your Company without Selling Out.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2003.
  • Block, Peter.The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting On What Matters.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2001.
  • Chambers, Harry E.No Fear Management: Rebuilding Trust, Performance, and Commitment in the New American Workplace.Boca Raton, FL: St. Lucie Press, 1998.
  • Deems, Richard S., and Terri A. Deems.Leading in Tough Times: The Manager’s Guide to Responsibility, Trust, and Motivation.Amherst, MA: HRD Press, 2003.
  • Galford, Robert M., and Anne Siebold Drapeau.The Trusted Leader: Bringing Out the Best in Your People and Your Company.New York: The Free Press, 2002.
  • Gollin, Al.Trust or Consequences: Build Trust Today or Lose Your Market Tomorrow.New York: AMACOM, 2004.
  • Johnson, Larry, and Bob Phillips.Absolute Honesty: Building a Corporate Culture That Values Straight Talk and Rewards Integrity.New York: AMACOM, 2003.
  • Kaptein, Muel, and Johan Wempe.The Balanced Company: A Corporate Integrity Theory.Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Maister, David H., Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford.The Trusted Advisor.New York: The Free Press, 2001.
  • O'Toole, James.Leading Change.Boston: Harvard Businss School Press, 1996.
  • Remick, Norman Thomas.West Point: Character Leadership Education: A Book Developed from the Readings and Writings of Thomas Jefferson.New York: RPR, 2002.
  • Seglin, Jeffrey L.The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business.Rollinsford, NH: Spiro Press, 2003.
  • Shaw, Robert Bruce.Trust in the Balance—Building Successful Organizations on Results, Integrity and Concern.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1997.
  • Solomon, Robert C., and Fernando Flores.Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life.Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Tracy, Diane, and William J. Morin.Truth, Trust, and the Bottom Line.Chicago, IL: Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2001.
  • Zand, Dale E.The Leadership Triad—Knowledge, Trust and Power.New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.

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