Honesty: A Primary Leadership Tool

Honesty: A Primary Leadership Tool
by Debra Benton

In a time when the government circulates disinformation to fight terrorism, and executives at Enron, Tyco, and Qwest manipulated their earnings reports for personal gain, it’s important to remind ourselves of the value of honesty.

Honesty is truth and integrity. If you are honest you avoid becoming mired in fraud, deceit, artifice, and deception.

Telling the truth is the right thing to do. Also, sticking to the facts relieves us of the stress that lies create. Honesty is a virtue, a signature trait of our higher selves.

It’s not clear whether today’s atmosphere of seeming disdain for honesty among business and government leaders is driven by greed and cynical gamesmanship or symptomatic of some deeper rent in the fabric of our society. What is clear, though, is that honesty is the right path to take in our personal, political, and professional lives.

Conversations with executives from companies that receive high marks for leadership are instructive. Consider their dos and don’ts for ensuring integrity in dispensing information:

Don’t intentionally mislead or misrepresent. Enough mis-communication will occur on its own without your prompting.

Don’t give a half-truth, fib, or allow a strategic omission of information. Regardless of how carefully you disguise the truth, someone will find out. It will be embarrassing at the very least.

Don’t straddle the line, waltz around, or put a spin on it. Eventually someone will find out.

Do be precise, crisp, and then move on. Long-winded explanations get you in trouble. Like John Wayne said, “Don’t complain, don’t explain.”

Do give the actual numbers. Say it like it is. That is good enough.

Do understand that misunderstandings can occur. When they do–and they will–clear them up. You can say: “There may have been a misunderstanding, but what I mean to communicate is . . .” Take responsibility.

Do realize that one person’s honesty is another person’s dishonesty. The fact is, we view the same issue differently based on upbringing, culture, experience, and other factors. The important thing is to state your understanding, ask for theirs, find the common points, and fix the ones that need to be corrected.

Do bring uncomfortable issues out into the open and encourage others to do the same. A lot more effort is generally spent in “covering it up” than “bringing it out.” For people you are associated with, it’s better to hear bad news from you than to read it in the press.

Don’t break promises or go back on your word. The key is to remember your commitment. Write it down and do it.

Do remember that your distrust of others will often engender their distrust of you. Suspicion breeds suspicion. When misunderstandings occur, clear things up right away; and expect to do that more than once.

Do be honest with yourself. You can’t be honest with others unless you are able to deal with the truth yourself.

Don’t forget, even for a moment, that people go to jail for dishonesty. Enough said.

It’s easy to read this and say, “Oh, yeah, I do those things.” The real test, however, is to ask your colleagues how they would rate your honesty.

You may well find, even as you strive to follow this list, that you don’t appear to others to be as forthright as you may think you do. What’s important is that we all steer harder in the direction of clear information and away from the tangled web of misinformation.

If you are honest in your business dealings, you add value to your life and the world around you. You count as one fewer deceptive player in the scheme of things and set yourself apart from others.

It’s fundamental. Honesty is the best policy. In business, as in life, it is critical. Honesty will enhance your leadership ability. That’s how you get ahead, get promoted, and get rewarded.

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