Integrity: Can We Teach/Train It?

July 14, 2017 James Bowen

Integrity is regarded by many people like honesty and truthfulness; its values include empathy and respect.

At the organizational and higher educational levels, we want to see individuals consistently acting ethically regardless of the situation and regardless of whether anyone will know.

Can we teach integrity by telling employees or students what is right and wrong?

Or should we have them experience it before an ethical dilemma?


There is tremendous value gained from sharing a learning experience; when we see what others will do, it helps shape or validates our mindset. We wouldn’t play a team sport without team practice, and ethical education/training is similar. Teams that rehearse a particular play implement it better during the game.

For example, in the recent United Airlines situation, why did the passengers, flight attendants, and the airport security agents not stop the situation? It was probably a new situation for all involved, and in a group environment, people tend to act according to a herd instinct. Before acting, they wonder what everyone else is going to do. If we start a revolution, no one wants to be the first out on the street. Most people will only consider joining a revolution once it has already begun.

What if the herd instinct was to act rather than wait to see what others are going to do?

What if through practice or rehearsal people knew what others are going to do and therefore acted without waiting?

I suggest that is where ethics organizational training and education needs to go. Less abstract discussion or videos on telling employees or students what is the right thing to do, more focus on developing a group understanding of how the group and individual will act in any particular ethical dilemma situation. Developing a cultural norm of what to do in a new situation will provide the basis for resistance to unethical decisions and actions.

For corporate training or students in a university/college setting, we tend to rely on videos, and ethics documents, what if we did frequent ethical role-plays in a group setting of actual ethical dilemmas, and employees/students enacted what should be done?

Ethics Training/Education as a Team Practice

We need to instill a group consensus of what to do for types of situations before their occurrence. Otherwise, there is a likelihood that during an unethical situation, some people will sit and watch rather than do the right thing.

There are tools to help (see simulations). The first step is to recognize that the herd tends to act when the thought of what to do has been shared/rehearsed as a group before the event.

James Bowen will conduct a workshop at the upcoming Academy of Management Conference to be held in Atlanta, GA. The workshop is entitled: Experiential Learning and Simulations, on August 4th, 2017 at 10 AM in Grand Ballroom A

The above article originally appeared on James Bowen’s LinkedIn page.

Image Credit: kristian sekulic/Getty


About the Author

CEO, Experiential Simulations //

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