Honesty and Leadership- Part 2


Following yesterday’s post I’ve been doing a little more reading about honesty and leadership.

Honesty is seen by many as a key factor in effective leadership 1,2, 3, 4

However, the recurring definition of honesty in most texts relates to trustworthiness of the leader.

I’m convinced that trustworthiness is a key factor in effective leadership but “truth” is a little bit more difficult to handle.

For truth – the whole truth – and nothing but the truth – can be exceptionally hurtful for those of us used to”white lies” – definition:

white lie n. A diplomatic or well-intentioned untruth.

I think we have become conditioned to telling “white lies” when dealing with personnel issues. We find ways to talk round an issue so that when we leave the room people are left wondering “Was I being told off – or complimented?”

Perhaps this is one of the key factors in effective leadership – the ability to tell the truth in such a way that people can still trust your judgement – even when the “truth” might be about you!

The danger here is that leaders might see this as a licence to criticise others under the cover of – “I must tell the truth”. What a leader such as Tim Brighouse has is the wisdom to judge when tell the truth and when to say nothing- the underlying purpose must always be driven by the interests of children.

6 thoughts on “Honesty and Leadership- Part 2

  1. I think people don’t mind following someone who isn’t 100% honest, but they won’t follow someone who they don’t trust. If you feel that your leader is genuinely concerned about your wellbeing, it probably isn’t going to matter if they tell the truth all time.

  2. Not telling someone the truth when they kind of know what you *are* thinking or wanting to say is probably the thing that makes us trust someone else the least. It’s also the easiest of things to pick up on. I’ve always said what I think when, IMO, it’s going to be of value. It’s meant sticking my neck out a few times but, by and large, it’s been genuinely mutually beneficial.

    Just coming off a superb Reboot conference I don’t think I met one person who would bother telling a white lie to keep someone happy – we’re all on Jaiku sending text messages to the web saying exactly what we think of the speaker currently on stage. Often they’re seeing the messages after the event but at least they won’t put themselves forward again to speak and waste the time of the people there. It’s not being rude (you only have the length of an SMS to make your point) but there is total mutual respect – if you’re going to get on a stage and take 40 mins of 100-600 people’s time then make sure you’re good. If you’re not good on stage don’t take it badly because we know you’ve got other superb talents we admire.

    Does that sound chaotic or idyllic? Well, all I know is I and everyone else have rather enjoyed feeling on an equal par with everyone around us. A great basis for learning.

  3. Honesty and truth can be difficult to pin down, especially when they can based on our perceptions. We all have to be careful that the judgements we make are based on fact as opposed what we think the truth may or should be. Our honest opinions need to be scrutinised internally before being publicly declared to check our motives are sound. Judging wisely based on as much factual information as possible I would think is the key.

  4. Often we women find the concept of honesty v indirect comments very difficult. (eg Her: your old coffee mugs have been on that desk for some time now. (meaning I want you to wash them!) Him: yes they have. (meaning yes they have.)

    So I have great difficulty with Ewan’s statement… “if you’re going to get on a stage and take 40 mins of 100-600 people’s time then make sure you’re good.”

    Maybe it is a pre-requisite for a speaker in the high excitement context of Reboot to be “good” whatever that means.

    In my time I’ve listened to a few people whose message on stage was worth listening to (“good” in my opinion) if you were ready to hear it, even though they were not necessarily good entertainment value, and did not have “stage presence”. The audience has to do a bit of work in this case, but maybe that’s OK in a professional context.

    I was at a conference today and at one session there was some straightforward, no punches pulled verbal criticism directed at the 2 presenters. Some people were pretty angry and felt their time had been wasted. Whilst their criticism might have been justified to them, and even though I might have agreed with them, I’m not sure what purpose was served by expressing it so directly.

    Some of the critics said “The presenters put themselves up there; they must accept honest feedback however it is expressed”. But they are whole human beings with personality and feelings. I wonder if it may make us less as human beings ourselves if we forget this.

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