Are you honest? In these days of misspeak and political correctness the maxim that honesty is the best policy can seem as impractical and archaic as Sanskrit. Most of us tell “white lies” to negotiate the minefields of human interaction. Leaders have struggled with truth since the dawn of time.
Abraham, the father of many nations, lied about his wife, Sarah, saying she was his sister, because of his fear of being killed for the truth. While Abraham was able to pull himself free from lying’s sticky ooze, others have not been so lucky. Remember the Watergate scandal when President Nixon was 1972’s poster child for lying? While it appears that he didn’t seem to know about the Watergate break-in at the beginning, once he had knowledge of it, he valiantly tried to cover it up. Nixon was popular at the time, but was concerned that public knowledge of the break-in would jeopardize risk his election prospects. In the end, dishonesty cost him his job.
Some liaisons with dishonesty are less lethal but still leave the partakers emotionally black-eyed and bruised. In 1998 President Bill Clinton was accused of having an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Vehemently denying the affair, he danced the tightrope over the frothy waters of impeachment for several months. In the end he admitted the indiscretion and moped off the political gridiron with his Presidency intact. In the end, dishonesty harmed his reputation.
Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.
With the upcoming 2016 election every presidential candidate will be measured against the bar of honesty and some will shamelessly stand on their tip-toes. The electorate demands an honesty quotient of their leaders and all presidential hopefuls have cast themselves as transparent truth-tellers. Candidates who are perceived to be dishonest had better take their marbles and go home. Great leaders engender trust and trust is based on congruence. The walk and the talk must match. They say what they mean and do what they say.
What is your leadership honesty quotient? In other words, do you strive to be honest no matter what the cost is or do you skew the truth? Worse, is the truth buried so far below earth-ages of spin, accounting machinations and rose-colored board presentations that you don’t know what it is? Trust is fragile like spring ice, easily broken and requiring a long season of time to rebuild. Dishonesty is like a threadbare cloak. At some point, the truth is inevitably revealed.
Here are 4 ways to test your leadership honesty quotient:
- Is honesty a core value for you? Does it bother you when other people are not honest? If so, likely it is important to you.
- Do you notice when you aren’t honest?
- Have you been accused of being dishonest? Was the accusation correct? Did you defend yourself or admit the dishonesty?
- Do you tend to spin facts to your favor?If you answered questions 1 and 2 “no” and 3 and 4 “yes”, it is a high probability you have issues with consistency in being honesty. If it’s not a core value, it won’t matter if you aren’t truthful. If you aren’t aware of when you are or aren’t honest you are at risk for being dishonest.There probably isn’t a leader who hasn’t been accused of not being truthful at some point. The key is are you sure about your actions and know that they are ethical and legal. If you tend to spin facts you need to have an encyclopedic memory to keep the story straight. Honesty is not only the best policy, it’s easier too.
Here are 5 tips to help with honesty:
- Make a commitment to yourself to never sacrifice truth for a lie or denial.
- When a mistake or negative event happens in your organization, admit it, own it and if it something needing correction – attend to it, quickly,
- If you publicly say something about an event in your organization that later is found to be incorrect, admit it to your employees and if appropriate, the public and your customers.
- Do what you say and say what you do – be consistent with your talk and actions. If you say one thing and do another, you won’t be trusted.
- Model admission of bad outcomes so others in your organization feel safe to do the same.
Truth exists; only lies are invented.