A successful organization requires a culture steeped in ethical behavior–and it starts at the top. Research finds that organizations led by ethical leaders report increased employee honesty, satisfaction, ethical behavior, and higher levels of effectiveness (Bedi, et al., 2016).  The character of a leader involves ethical and moral beliefs, intentions, and actions, and is linked to integrity, justice, and fairness. Character is a disposition shaped and guided by a set of principles, beliefs, or way of thinking, that influences the actions and behaviors of leaders, particularly in difficult situations.

Recently, a study of university athletic administrators (N = 76)  found the character traits of Accountability, Integrity, and Drive scored the highest for prevalence, importance, value, and effectiveness. These findings were supported by similar research with leaders from business and non-profit organizations. The character of effective, ethical leaders appear to include these traits:

Accountability: a leader’s sense of ownership. Effective leaders recognize their responsibilities and fulfill their duties. Elements of accountability include accepting consequences, conscientious, responsible, and taking ownership.

Integrity: a leader with integrity is authentic, candid, consistent, principled, and transparent. Integrity is about knowing oneself, having high moral standards, and following through on what they say they will do.

Drive: a leader eager to succeed and not afraid to fail. Problems are met head-on with an urgency to solve the task at hand. Drive includes seizing initiative, being passionate and results-oriented, striving for excellence, and taking vigorous action.


Bedi, A., Alpaslan, C., & Green, S. E. (2016). A meta-analytic review of ethical leadership outcomes and moderators. Journal of Business Ethics, 139, 517-536.

Danylchuk, K., Weese, W. Z., & Paradis, K. F. (2020). Character in Leadership: Perceptions of Intercollegiate Athletics Administrators. Journal of Contemporary Athletics14(3), 191–209.