Honesty and Leadership – Part 3


Thanks for the helpful comments to the previous post in this series – they have helped me to explore the tension between the desire to “always tell the truth” and being an “effective leader”

Regardless of my desire to promote a non-hierarchical culture there is a reality that I am in a position of ‘power’ within education in East Lothian. There are potentially many things I see and hear as part of my daily work that I don’t really like, agree with, or support.  If I was “always going to tell the truth” then I might express my feelings explicity through my words, actions or body language. However, I need to balance the impact such negative feedback might have upon individuals, groups and the wider culture.

It might help here to refer to the Emotional Intelligence and more specifically the competency sets which Michael Fullan describes in Leading in  Culture of Change

 Five main emotional competency sets:

Self-awareness (knowing one’s internal state, preferences, resources, and


Self-regulation (managing one’s internal states, impulses, and resources)

Motivation (emotional tendencies that guide or facilitate reaching goals)

Empathy (awareness of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns)

Social skills (adeptness at inducing desirable responses from others)

In relation to the tension between “truth” and “effective leadership” I reckon there’s much to be taken from the above competences:

Self-regulation – I must manage my own impulses – e.g. don’t react to something by saying  “That was a hopeless presentation”. It might be how I feel, and it might be my immediate reaction but the damage such a statement might do – particularly to someone whom I manage – might be irreversible.

Empathy – I must try to be aware of how people will feel if I give negative feedback. I have the ‘power’ to create real emotional stress and ill-health through careless comments, actions or body language.

Social Skills – I need to judge how to interact with different people and groups – what works in one context won’t work in another.

Returning to my theme of “honesty and Leadership” I don’t think there’s a contradiction in anything I’ve said here and about my desire to ‘never avoid the truth”. The reality of the matter is that there can be no avoiding the “truth” if it impacts upon the educational well-being of children in East Lothian.

However, I need to realise that my position, personal preferences and standards do not give me a licence to pass negative comment whenever I feel the urge.



3 thoughts on “Honesty and Leadership – Part 3

  1. Hi Don,

    Being in the ‘position’ of starting out as a teacher in August, your posts on leadership and truth have been really effective to me.

    I’m going to be at the bottom of the chain as a probationer, but I am acutely aware that honesty and leadership are going to be huge factor of my success as a classroom teacher. I was going to say that my defenition of a good leader (in relation to trust/honesty), was quite simply someone who was willing to ‘stick their neck out’. This could be through your personality or your choices. And I guess that this, of course, leaves you open to critisism – as you showed in your last post – though much better to know what people feel about you than not!
    I find a couple of things interesting though – the two way nature of honesty, especially between someone in ‘power’ and someone who is not….?
    Also the nature of ‘honesty and trust’ when it comes to blogging. I wonder how much ‘honesty’ people display when they choose quite simple not to comment or ‘publish’ their post?I particularly liked the words ‘steadfast’, ‘integrity’ and ‘candor’ in the pdf you pointed us to. I hope people will be receptive to the harsh truth if it and they are treated with dignity.
    The ending note, I thought was apt for me over the year ahead:
    Honesty and integrity is an all or nothing situation, there are no half-way measures. Successful people recognize the practice of honesty and
    integrity as the foundation for building trust. Based on trust, quality professional
    relationships are built and maintained. There are no substitutes:
    I was not lying, I said things that later on seemed to be untrue. Richard Nixon (1978)
    Honesty is the stuff you tell yourself when nobody else is listening. J.T. Scarnati


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