World congress call for greater integrity in corporate boardrooms

Keynote address advocates action to deal with fraud, corruption, miss-selling, false labelling and abuses of power.

More integrity, heart and soul are required in corporate boardrooms according to Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas in a keynote speech to the world congress on leadership and the quality of governance in Bangalore, India. With newspapers reporting a succession of scandals the author of Developing Directors, a handbook for building effective boardroom teams, called for individual, corporate and Government action.

Coulson-Thomas believes “integrity is necessary for establishing relationships of trust, within the boardroom and with stakeholders. A true heart and honest soul can engage and connect with people who want to work for, invest in, buy from or collaborate with companies they feel will be open with them and treat them fairly.”

However, the professor suggests that “despite its importance, integrity cannot be assumed. Misrepresentation, distortion, deception and dishonesty abound. People exaggerate their achievements on CVs. They miss-sell and falsely label offerings. They claim credit for other people’s efforts. They talk up stock they would like to sell. Athletes take drugs to enhance their performance. Fraudsters embezzle funds.”

Coulson-Thomas calls for realism: “Some people are invariably honest or dishonest. Others will do something they know to be wrong if it will benefit them and the risk of discovery and penalties are low in relation to what they might gain.”

“For organisations and societies the cost of monitoring, compliance and policing can be high. Instituting, managing and reviewing various controls and methods of prevention and detection can be time consuming. ‘Traditional’ controls considered essential can also constrain freedom, inhibit creativity and slow progress.”

“The costs and benefits of a lack of integrity are sometimes unequally shared. For some the payoffs from underhand behaviour can appear attractive, while its negative consequences can have a smaller impact upon a much larger number of people.
When illegality and corruption occurs a great many people can pay the price. False insurance claims by the few can mean higher premium payments for the many.”

Coulson-Thomas argues that “Pious statements are not enough. Directors can protect brands by supporting those who act with integrity. They can identify and mitigate risks, and deploy counter fraud strategies. They can adopt cost-effective ways of preventing abuse and ensuring compliance that do not restrain freedom, creativity and innovation. They can select people who instinctively ‘make the right call’.”

The professor called for a shift of emphasis from top-down management to helping people. “As well as boosting productivity, reducing cost, speeding up responses and ensuring compliance, performance support can enable people to act in desired ways and prevent actions that would contravene a law, regulation, policy or code. Miss-selling, a lack of trust and penalties imposed by regulators can be avoided. People quickly adopt support which makes it easier for them to do difficult jobs.”

When board appointments are made Coulson-Thomas believes that directorial competences such as strategic awareness are no longer enough: “In a complex and uncertain business environment ensuring that people with the right personal qualities serve on corporate boards has never been more important. Other candidates might be cleverer and more socially skilled. But when faced with difficult decisions and moral dilemmas will they assume responsibility, think for themselves, question and make fair, balanced and defensible decisions? ”

The professor suggested to world congress delegates: “It is in our long-term interest that we bring into corporate boardrooms people who act with integrity and instinctively do the ‘right thing’ – the ‘right thing’ by their individual consciences in particular circumstances, the ‘right thing’ for the reputations and prospects of their companies, and the ‘right thing’ for all our futures.”

Prof Colin Coulson-Thomas, author of Developing Directors, has helped over 100 companies to improve director, board and corporate performance, and spoken at over 200 national, international and corporate events in over 40 countries. An experienced board chair he is a member of the business school team at the University of Greenwich and has held professorial appointments in various countries and national and local public appointments. His latest publications can be obtained from and he can be contacted via

The keynote speech of Prof. Coulson-Thomas on the subject of Integrity: Regenerating Boards for Quality Leadership was delivered at the 23rd World Congress: Leadership & Quality of Governance held at the Hotel The Lalit Ashok, Bangalore, India. The world congress was organised by the Institute of Directors of India which is dedicated to building tomorrow’s boards. A news item on the event can be found on:


17 Feb 2013
Colin Coulson-Thomas