Yale professor details importance of CEO integrity to success

Yale Associate Professor Thomas Steffen addressed the importance of CEO integrity to business success on Nov. 4, 2022.

Steffen presented findings from his research on the importance of integrity for CEOs.

In an IBM survey from 2010 of 1,500 CEOs in 60 countries and 33 industries, the top two traits CEOs valued in their leadership qualities were creativity first and integrity a close second.

“Creativity and integrity are often negatively correlated,” Steffen half-joked with the audience of about 50 people.

His original research showed that CEOs who have high behavioral integrity, meaning their actions align with what they say, have more trust from their stakeholders and often must provide less explanation of and justification for the decisions they are making.

After assessing thousands of CEO letters to shareholders, Steffen and his research colleagues found that the perceived ethics of CEOs resulted in either more explanation from those viewed as having less integrity and under-explanation from those who were viewed as having more.

Steffen quoted Warren Buffet, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway:

“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

Steffen’s research, “CEO Behavioral Integrity, Auditor Responses, and Firm Outcomes,” was published in The Accounting Review in March 2020. His co-authors were Shane S. Dikoli, University of Virginia; Thomas Keusch, INSEAD; and William J. Mayew, Duke University.

The Yale Club of Utah, Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at the University of Utah, and the Marriner S. Eccles Institute for Economics and Quantitative Analysis invited Steffen to present the Redpath Lecture to alumni of Yale University, students, faculty, and staff at the David Eccles School of Business.

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