We were recently working with a group, exploring the characteristics of an excellent leader. When we had identified a list of those characteristics, we asked people to choose two that they felt they were good at, and that mattered. A significant number of them chose ‘honest’, explaining that it was vital for trust and good relationships and that dishonesty was something they could not tolerate in others.
I was delighted that this had become so important to people – we have done this activity many times before, and I have never seen so many people choose honest as their quality. Maybe the whole sorry business at Enron, not to mention the questions over the US and British governments’ reasons for going to war with Iraq have brought this issue up to the forefront of people’s minds recently. If so, then there is some good come out of so much unacceptable behaviour!
It is common sense that honesty is the best policy, yet so often leaders are ‘economical with the truth’. This may seem easier at the time, but we all know that longer-term, we win more respect from others when we are honest with them, and they come to know that they can trust us to play straight with them.
We also know that we feel better in ourselves when we are not deceiving others, and on a purely practical level, you don’t have to remember what you were dishonest about if you simply stay honest!
We often misinterpret what being honest means in practice. This is a sad reflection on how common deception is in different forms. Whilst we may all recognise and choose to despise the out-and- out lie, we are often living with the everyday deceptions without even being aware of it in ourselves. We do after all, have a culture of politeness, so we spend a lot of time censoring our thoughts when interacting with people to make sure we don’t offend them, and this is also sometimes a form of dishonesty. Whereas we react to others who are not playing straight with us, we often don’t realise how much we are doing the same thing.
What we particularly remember in ourselves is the times when we have not told people something negative – where we have ‘held our tongue’ – so when we talk about being honest, we think of telling people what we really think of them – and we don’t think of the nice things we would have to say!
As a leader, I believe we have to wake ourselves up to the full meaning of the principle of being honest, and demonstrate how it works to all our advantages for our staff.
Honesty with ourselves.
- Are we living our own values?
- Are we leading others as we would like to be led?
- Are we being straight with ourselves about the state of our business?
Honesty with our staff
- Do we tell them both good news and bad news about the company?
- Do we tell them when they perform well, and when they need to improve?
It is not hard to be honest – it’s easier than deceit or lies! I’m sure you would prefer to have others honest with you, so apply the same principle in your dealings with others.