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3 good words of recommendation

When making a recommendation about another leader, look for the three "I's" of integrity, intellect and inclusion, writes John Baldoni.

4 min read



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What would you say if you had to give a recommendation for an executive being considered for a new leadership role?

john baldoni 2022

A colleague of mine was presented with this challenge and, on the spot, came up with three simple words to describe this individual.

Integrity. Intellect. Inclusion. Call them the three I’s. Let’s take each one at a time.

Integrity. Trust is the watchword of leadership. Integrity comes down to honor, that is, acting honestly because it is the right thing to do, not merely because it makes you look good. Goodness embraces courage, too. Honest leaders live by a moral code; it is their spine, their backbone.

Intellect. You have to have smarts to lead others. Intelligence does not come from having attended the “right schools.” Intellect is the ability to reason, to use logic to cipher the issues dispassionately. Intellect, in a broader sense, is “street smarts,” the ability to know how the world works. It requires an ability to read people, to ascertain what they want and why they want it. Leaders need to be savvy, separate the unimportant from the important and focus on what matters most to accomplish things.

Inclusion. This word sums up the reality of creating a culture where people feel wanted. Inclusion gives meaning to diversity and impetus to equity. It is one thing to hire women and minorities; it is another thing to provide them with the proverbial seat at the table. Equity emerges when people at the table reflect society at large and have the opportunity to prove themselves. This action is what it means to be inclusive.

The importance of character

These attributes — integrity, intellect and inclusion — form the foundation of what we want our leaders to demonstrate. Other attributes also come to mind — commitment, courage and compassion. You can argue that these and others might be found under the umbrella of a single word — character.

“The best index to a person’s character,” said Abigail Van Buren (aka Dear Abby), “is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.” This quote by the legendary advice columnist illustrates the true meaning of character. You act for others because it is the right thing to do.

Fleshing this notion can be found in the words of the Roman senator and orator, Cicero. 

“It is not by muscle, speed or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character and judgment.” This is where intellect enters. Thinking, deliberating and evaluating all require a degree of intellectual horsepower and a healthy dose of integrity.

“Perfection of character is this,” said Marcus Aurelius. “Live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretense.” In other words, you need to keep working on it. Therefore, focus on what it means to live with integrity. Keep your intellect sharpened by observing, reading and reflecting. And practice the principles of inclusion by looking to embrace ideas and support the actions of people different from yourself.


John Baldoni is a member of 100 coaches and leadership keynote presenter. He has been recognized as a top 20 leadership expert by Global Gurus, a list he has been on since 2007. He is also ranked as a Global 100 Leader and Top 50 Leadership Expert by John is the author of 15 books. His leadership resource website is 

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