Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 82, Issue 3, pp 733–745

Impostors Masquerading as Leaders: Can the Contagion be Contained?



Corporate scandals have assumed epidemic proportions. All around the globe, even renowned organizations have been felled from their high pedestals by the misdeeds of their leaders. This raises an intriguing question: How do such resourceful organizations end up with crass ‹impostors’ as leaders in the first place? The answer perhaps lies in the misplaced emphasis on certain qualities we associate with leadership. True leadership requires a balance among three elemental pre-requisites: Energy, Expertise and Integrity. When they are synchronized, they unleash the latent potential in any organization. Out of these three interacting gears of leadership, it is Integrity that ensures that an organization is run in the right direction – with a view towards collective good rather than selfish motives. Therefore, it is the most non-negotiable of the three elements. Henceforth, leaders ought not to be selected on the basis of the superficial qualities that have blinded us in the past. They must first pass the acid test of Integrity. This article suggests a ‹decision tree’ and a ‹checklist’ to help in the selection process.


the epidemic of corporate malfeasance impostors in leadership roles the havoc impostors create the limitations of corporate governance the elemental pre-requisites of true leadership striking a balance among the three leadership pre-requisites 


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This paper is a sequel to the author’s “Virtuous Leadership: AnAntidote To ‹Small’ Men In High Places” (General Management Review, April-June, 2003). The multiple facets of integrity in leadership have been highlighted in the writings of:

  1. Badaracco, J.: 1989, Leadership & The Quest For Integrity (HBS Press)Google Scholar
  2. Bennis, W. and J. O’Toole: 1995, Leading Change: The Argument For Values- Based Leadership (Jossey-Bass)Google Scholar
  3. Collins, J.: 2001, Good To Great (Harper)Google Scholar
  4. Heifetz, R.: 1996, Leadership Without Easy Answers (Universal)Google Scholar
  5. Kennedy-Glans, D. and B. Schultz: 2005, Corporate Integrity (John Wiley)Google Scholar
  6. Schwab, K.: 1993, Leadership Hexagon (World Economic Report)Google Scholar
  7. Secretan, L.: 1996, Reclaiming Higher Ground (Macmillan)Google Scholar
  8. Shelton, K.: 1998, Integrity At Work (Executive Excellence)Google Scholar
  9. Tichy, N.: 1997, The Leadership Engine (Harper)Google Scholar

The damage caused when integrity is lacking is described well by:

  1. Cialdini, R., G. Petrova, and J. Noah: 2004, The Hidden Costs of Organizational Dishonesty (MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2004)Google Scholar

The argument that it is not enough to improve compliance procedures to promote integrity, and that it is more important to carefully foster a value-based culture, has been put forth by:

  1. Chrisyopher Kayes, D., D. Stirling and M. Tjai Nielsen: 2007, ‹Building Organizational Integrity’, Business Horizons, January-February 2007Google Scholar

Among the papers dealing with the subject of leadership succession, the following are recommended:

  1. Bennis, Warren and J. O’Toole, 2000: ‹Don’t Hire The Wrong CEO’, Harvard Business Review, May-June 2000Google Scholar
  2. Levinson, H.: ‹Criteria For Choosing Chief Executives’, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1980Google Scholar
  3. Sorcher, M. and J. Brant: 2002, Harvard Business Review, February 2002Google Scholar
  4. The Statistic About White-Collar Fraud is Taken from ‹Profile of a Fraudster: Survey 2007’ ( Scholar
  5. The Booz Allen Finding About the Sacking of CEOs is Reported in ‹The Hidden Good News About CEO Dismissals’ (C. Lucier & Jan Dyer, HBR, July-August, 2007)Google Scholar
  6. The Fall in the Image of CEOs is Described in ‹Tough at the Top’ (The Economist, October 25, 2003)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Organizational Behavior, XLRIJamshedpurIndia

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