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The Value of Integrity: Leadership Ecosystems vs. Ego-systems

“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Integrity is one of those words that we think we know what it means, but it’s difficult to articulate its meaning. We know it when we see it, and especially when we don’t. Common definitions describe integrity as the “practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.”

Leading with integrity – at work, at home, and in our communities – means not only knowing our values, but living in accordance with them by consistently aligning our actions with our words. In the business world, it’s likely we have worked with and for individuals in leadership positions whose actions seem to be aligned more with their egos than ethos, leading others to question their integrity.

When we’re grounded in integrity, we lead and serve through an ecosystem, rather than an ego-system. Coined by Otto Scharmer in his book, Leading from the Emerging Future, “ecosystem leadership” describes leaders who demonstrate integrity by serving within an interdependent circle filled with individual and collective contributors. As business grows, we expand our circle to include more partners and collaborators. Successes are celebrated at an organizational rather than personal level, with a spirit of “we’re all in this together.” Leaders with integrity build organizations with integrity from the inside out and the bottom up.

However, the opposite is also true – the lack of integrity leads to ego-centric decisions influenced by the outside in and enforced by the top down. Seduced by the inflated ego, a mindset of “gimme more” kicks in – more wins, more opportunities, and more recognition – resulting in even fewer examples of integrity. Not only do we see these behaviors in leadership, they are becoming far too common in the “hustle culture” of business, ultimately eroding credibility. From nonprofit executives embezzling funds to marketing companies with questionable tactics, the integrity of people behind the brands either builds or breaks trust.

In today’s environment of striving to create bigger impacts with fewer resources, leading with integrity through a healthy ecosystem allows us to rely on the contributions of collaborative partners to leverage collective intelligence. As an organization – and a microcosm of a larger cultural and societal system – we become smarter, more creative, and more broadminded when we lean into integrity by harnessing the strengths and skills of each other to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.


Mindful Leadership is a personal and organizational leadership development consulting practice offering services to individuals, groups, companies, and government agencies. With a solution-centered approach that incorporates appreciative inquiry, assessment, reflection, and action, Mindful Leadership’s services bridge the gap between theory and practice to equip leaders at all levels to grow and excel. Founder and owner Angie Chaplin holds the highest distinction of Certified Master and Coach for The Leadership Challenge by internationally bestselling authors, Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner, and earned certifications in student leadership, behavior analysis, and SMART Recovery. Overcoming severe alcohol use disorder to achieve recognition as an alcohol-free speaker and role model, Angie’s self-leadership story exemplifies her values of integrity, curiosity, clarity, connection, and love. She holds a master’s degree in strategic communication and leadership from Seton Hall University and a bachelor’s degree from Buena Vista University.

by Angie Chaplin, Mindful Leadership

[email protected]

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