Return on Character

Senior Leadership Character Reputation is one of the Strongest Predictors of Organization Success

After 7 years, 100+ organizations and more than 1 million data points - we now know leadership character reputation is one of the strongest predictors of organization success. Senior teams with a strong character reputation average ~5x greater ROA, +26% Employee Engagement and notably less risk than peers with a self-focused reputation.



The character reputation of a senior leader either supercharges or undermines their ability to successfully execute skills they have acquired. A leader's automatic response patterns to act with integrity, responsibility, compassion and forgiveness influences how effectively their skills are applied.

Leadership Behavior

Almost all key organizational dynamics are originated from a senior leadership team's personal behavior to lead with both their heads and their hearts. The most successful leadership teams have a reputation for being strong in all four areas of acting with integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion.

Can Character Really Change?

We know from quantified research and more than 25 years of experience that with the right first steps, data, and motivation anyone can change. What's more, there is frequently a significant difference between a leader's intent and reputation. Most senior leaders have the best instincts when it comes to character; it's often something they are doing unconsciously or culturally that is causing a disconnect with the workforce.

In fact, for nearly 7 out of 10 senior leaders there is a sizable gap between their intent and character reputation. This gap can leave significant money on the table.

How We Define Character

Return on Character

Return on Character

The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win


Does the character of our leaders matter?

You may think this question was answered long ago. Countless business authors and analysts have assured us that great leadership demands great character. Time and again, we’ve seen that truth play out, as once-thriving organizations falter and fail under the guidance of leaders behaving badly. Why, then, do so many executives remain skeptical about the true value of leadership character? A winning strategy and a sound business model are what really matter, they argue; character is just the icing on the cake.

What’s been missing from this debate is hard evidence: data that shows not only that leadership character matters for organizational success, but how it matters; and concrete evidence that it leads to better business results. Now, in this groundbreaking book, respected leadership researcher, adviser, and author Fred Kiel offers that evidence–solid data that demonstrates the connection between character, leadership excellence, and organizational results.

After seven years of rigorous research based on a landmark study of more than 100 CEOs and over 8,000 of their employees’ observations, Kiel’s findings show that leaders of strong character achieved up to five times the ROA for their organizations as did leaders of weak character.

Return on Character goes on to reveal:

  • How leadership character is formed, how it creates value, and how that value spreads throughout the organization
  • How low-character leaders undermine the success of even the best business plans
  • How leaders at any level can develop the habits of strong character and “unlearn” the habits of poor character
  • The book also provides a character-building methodology–step-by-step advice and techniques for assessing your own character habits and improving your performance and that of your organization.

Return on Character provides the blueprint for building your own leadership character and creating a character-driven organization that achieves superior business results.

HBR Press

Advanced Praise

“This book breaks new ground. Its central finding: organizations led by a CEO and executive team of high character will, on average, produce a materially higher ROA than other organizations. Readers will find the results convincing and the suggestions for how to attain that kind of leadership quite valuable.”

Irvine Hockaday

former President and CEO,

Hallmark Cards

“This book is an extraordinary source of insight about how the personal characteristics of leaders translate into significant economic consequences for the organizations they lead. The examples are concrete, the chapter takeaways are penetrating, and the guidance for becoming a ‘Virtuoso leader’ is essential reading for anyone with leadership aspirations or responsibilities.”

Shane S. Dikolli

Associate Dean for Faculty Engagement,

Fuqua School of Business, Duke University

“Fred Kiel's breakthrough research demonstrates that character is a leadership differentiator that resonates with employees and has a positive impact on business results. His findings clearly illustrate that greatness need not be achieved at the expense of virtuosity, and that the self-focused CEO will always be part of our history but does not need to be part of our future.”

Yvonne K. Franzese

Chief Human Resources Officer,

Allianz of America

“Fred Kiel provides inspiration for both current and future leaders to live and act on their values and to empower their organizations to do the same. A great contribution to the study of leadership.”

David Kenny

Chairman and CEO,

The Weather Company

“Fred Kiel, the global dean of CEO coaches—in the masterpiece of his career—argues two truths gleaned from his practice and scholarship: 1) High personal character in corporate leadership yields far higher ROI and ROA for the company; and 2) Growth in character is a matter of choice and discipline and, as such, available to us all. Thirty years of clinical practice built into a playbook for leaders and their teams.”

David G. Bradley

owner and Chairman,

Atlantic Media

Moral Intelligence 2.0

Moral Intelligence 2.0

Great companies have leaders who actively apply moral values to achieve enduring success. Conversely, companies with amoral or dishonorable leaders fail–and, in the recent financial crisis, they nearly took down the world economy with them. Moral Intelligence 2.0 identifies the values that matter most, demonstrates their links to success, shows how to apply them as leaders, and helps you build companies that embody them.

Using new examples, case studies, and interviews with key business leaders, the authors show how greater moral intelligence can drive higher levels of trust, engagement, retention, and innovation. Readers will find specific, expert guidance on moral leadership in both large organizations and entrepreneurial ventures. This edition also introduces a practical, step-by-step plan for strengthening all four core elements of moral intelligence: integrity, responsibility, compassion, and forgiveness.

  • Quantifying the business value of high moral intelligence
    …and the multiple costs of moral failure
  • Applying moral values when it’s toughest–and matters most
  • Four steps toward the right decision: recognize, reflect, reframe, and respond
  • Becoming a more effective moral leader
  • Improving your personal Moral Positioning System–and using it to lead

Advanced Praise

“Organizations without strong values will not survive the test of time. Moral Intelligence 2.0 offers a timeless message that is particularly timely in light of the recent financial crisis. Read it. Apply it. It makes sense.”

Jim Cracchiolo

Chairman and CEO,

Ameriprise Financial

“This is a critically important book at a critical time in the history of U.S. financial markets.”

John Taft

CEO, RBC Wealth Management and Chairman,

Securities and Financial Markets Association

“The authors demonstrate that business success should be built on the bedrock of moral values. They clearly identify the need to foster these moral skills in future generations of leaders.”

Jeff Ettinger


Hormel Foods Corporation

“Leaders who gain their employees’ confidence through moral leadership will achieve greater commitment, productivity, and sustained performance. This book helps you identify such leaders and build a culture of moral competence in your organization.”

David E. Pylipow

EVP and Chief Human Resources Officer,

SuperValu, Inc.

“I highly recommend this book to my students and strongly believe it is essential reading for any business executive.”

Shane Dikolli, Ph.D. CPA

Associate Professor,

The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University

“Lennick and Kiel bring brilliant clarity to the potential market disruption caused by applying sophisticated analytic approaches without the filter of strong moral codes.”

Mark B. Gorman

CEO and Founder,

The Gorman Group Insurance Consultancy

“The world of business would be vastly improved if Moral Intelligence became required reading.”

Daniel Goleman

Author of Emotional Intelligence