shutterstock_209285686 A great legacy is the expression of fine character traits: Who have you helped along the way? Has your business helped community? How do you treat your co-workers and employees and what is your overall reputation? There’s evidence that fine personal character traits in corporate leadership have a quantifiable improved return.

Can you calculate your return on integrity?

In his book, “Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win,” Fred Kiel shows “there’s a measurable relationship between CEO character and business success” – i.e., the “return on character.” Kiel’s research shows that certain character traits such as compassion, accountability, reliability, loyalty, and integrity are predictors for success in the workplace. Kiel’s landmark study of more than 100 CEOs and over 8,000 of their employees’ observations revealed that leaders of strong character achieved a return up to five times greater than leaders of weak character.

Keil’s studies also showed that the best leaders were the least self-focused. He describes them as virtuosos who use both their head and their heart to orchestrate a high-performance team. Keil argues that character traits are the secret tools that drive an organization’s success along with the value it creates in the marketplace.

Define Character

“How well you treat other people is the best reflection of your character.” Kiel assigns four moral principles to people of high character with behaviors tied to them.


  • Keeps promises

Not afraid to speak up in the face of adversity


  • Accepts consequences for their decisions


  • Doesn’t pass the blame onto others
  • Accepts responsibility for a mistakes
  • Asks the injured party for forgiveness
  • Doesn’t harbor grudges
  • Is quick to forgive


  • Looks for opportunities to treat people respectfully, bonds and connects
  • Makes themselves accessible for feedback

Biggest challenge for leaders today

Surprisingly, Kiel’s findings reveal that in most cases leaders don’t realize that they need to work on their character. “They’re pretty deluded,” Kiel said. When asked to rate themselves on the four moral principles, the self-focused CEOs gave themselves much higher marks than their employees did. (The CEOs who got high ratings from employees actually gave themselves slightly lower scores – a sign of their humility and further evidence of strong character.) Fortunately, Kiel points out, leaders can increase their self-awareness through objective feedback from the people they work with. But they have to be receptive to that feedback.

High character CEO turnaround

Within two years, Richard Anderson, Delta’s CEO, took Delta from bankruptcy to one of the most profitable airlines in the industry. Anderson took an approach opposite to that of his predecessor. He actively engaged employees by holding weekly town hall meetings of 250 to 400 per week when the executive management team shared their vision and opened up to questions. No questions were off-limits.

To recognize the efforts of their people, Anderson distributed more than $340 million in “shared rewards” payments and profit sharing “thanks to our superior performance in 2010.” In addition, Delta contributed more than $1 billion to its employees’ defined benefit and defined contribution retirement plans during 2010. Delta also ranked at the top of Fortune magazine’s “2011 World’s Most Admired Companies” airline industry list and continues to prioritize both customer safety and comfort.

Ten behaviors that could help you develop a virtuous character

  • Be honest
  • Look for creative ways to solve problems
  • Do what you say you’ll do
  • Freely share credit
  • Request to help
  • Be positive
  • Be agile
  • Listen more than talk
  • Be curious to learn
  • Be slow to anger and quick to forgive

Benefits tied to a good character for emerging leaders

Putting others’ needs before your own will help you get noticed. When you show people that you care about what matters to them and help them solve their problems, you’ll increase your influence and your overall effectiveness. Demonstrating good character in the workplace will help distinguish you as a “go-to” person and a potential leader. A worthy employer will show appreciation for your efforts when your focus is on strengthening the business through behaving in a highly principled fashion.