Moving Toward the Truth
Dishonest leaders lie to cover up, manipulate, and protect their image. Deceptive strategies range from false humility – the subtlest form of arrogance – to telling people what they want to hear.
All deceptions begin with cowardly self-interest. Lying is fearful posturing for personal advantage. For example, we don’t want to look dumb so we pretend we know. In so doing, organizations and leaders remain dumb.
I asked Dennis N.T. Perkins, author of, Leading at the Edge, what surprised him about leadership. “The courage it takes,” he replied. Perkins continued, “Great leaders:
- Courageously speak up and say the unpopular.
- Overcome the pressure to conform and say hard things.
- Challenge assumptions.”
“You can get promoted,” Perkins commented, “without courage.” Honestly, many organizations don’t want the truth. They want the company line, the accepted, and the expected. The need to fit in motivates deception and creates mediocrity.
Truth-telling starts at the top. Leaders who need to hear what they want to hear create dishonest cultures. Fear of offending arouses deception. People deceive for personal benefit. Wise leaders give advantages to truth-tellers not yes-men.
Truth-telling according to Perkins:
- Isn’t brash.
- Requires steely resolve.
- Comes from quiet confidence.
- Reflects calm not bravado.
- Demands focus.
People to trust:
Trust people who are willing to speak otherwise, express the unpopular, and challenge assumptions without personal agendas.
Respect opens the door to the gift of truth.
A trusted leadership colleague called to let me know I was harsh with two young leaders in a recent meeting. We discussed it. Explored my intent and evaluate my methods. I expressed noble intent inappropriately. Honesty is a gift.
I heard him because he respects me. Respect opens ears.
Here’s a post on “Finding Courage” — The past is the future without courageous leadership.
How can leaders speak the truth without alienating others?
How are truthful environments created and sustained?
Project: Ask your team how you can promote truth-telling in your organization.
Highly recommended read:
Those who try to fit in more likely to compromise. Those who try to stand out face opposition. But finally, it is the second category that makes difference. I believe truth and respect goes together. It looks strange when you respect someone dishonestly. There are people who pretend to show respect towards people but they have hidden agendas. Dishonesty is exposed sooner or later but truth remains stand out. In the organizations, people can get promotion following trends. But there are people who lag behind because they can not change their value and beliefs. Yesmanship is the new trend to elevate faster in the organizations. Yesmanship fosters unethical and dishonest practices where honest people suffer. I think leadership practice is the driver of yesmanship or truth man-ship. It is always a top down approach, so in any organizations, it is the leaders who create environment. Leaders can promote truth telling by respecting, appreciating and rewarding truth-tellers. Leaders should include such parameters in performance appraisal process so that fakers can be exposed and discouraged.
“Respect opens ears.” Perfect.
Diplomacy opens ears.
And people always want to listen to genuine compliments; not false compliments, those are just manipulative.
Truth sandwiched between genuine admiration and respect will be heard.
Ajay, I love your term ‘yesmanship’ ! So true.
Well said, I believe if the truth was told more often many of the bailed out orgainisations would be a better state of affairs.
I definitely think it has to start at the top and a culture of truth developed. In a team environment then ‘contracting’ is useful to set down some guidelines.
some things to consider when telling the truth
1. as you said,the intent to make things better has to be explicit or could be misunderstood
2. tact is important around timing,situation or whether its done 1:1 or in a group situation
3. the way you say it is as important as what you say, however consideration should be given to the words used
4. A level of trust or credibility has to be built first
5. concentrate on the facts of the situation
6. If you are prepared to give it out be prepared to receive it
Interesting to see that the Head of Tesco has admited they have got it wrong and must do better in respect to their customer experience.
Excellent post, in our practice all staff members understand that honesty is top on the list of must do’s. And you are absolutely correct that it starts at the top. We also need to develop a no fear atmosphere in our workplace, as this does help people to feel that there is no reason to be untruthful. While this has helped in our business, it hasn’t been cure. Some people just have a hard time with “honesty is the best policy”
Thank you for the great post and enjoy today
Another great one Dan. Removing or at least reducing the ego is a must. When this is done, you are able to listen more. Also, makes it easier to CARE; Communicate, Appreciate, Respect, Encourage. When you get out of yourself, it makes it easier to tell the truth. Be honest with yourself, first.
“To thine own self be True”
“The [shame and anger of the] past is the future without courageous leadership.”
Hope you don’t mind my contribution.
Sometimes I think the problem is that leaders and others, have spent so much time covering up the truth, not speaking it, not admitting it that they may not actually know / have insight into how often and when they deceive and to what degree. I am not excusing the behaviour, merely recognizing where we sometimes need to start to help others express honesty. Good post Dan.
Another great post. I think that many times, people want to be leaders but don’t understand the courage it takes, the courage to be honest with people, the courage it takes to challenge the status quo, the courage it takes to be unpopular due to decisions that are made in the best interest of the organization. That’s what I really enjoy about reading your posts, they always make me think and reflect on my current reality.
BTW, Al, I love your use of the acronym CARE. So true.
Have a great day.
The truth always pays dividends in the long run, even though at first it may fall on deaf ears …… I don’t believe that people do not want to know the truth, I believe the timing is critical for all parties concerned. Walking the line with tenacity is better than towing it placidly …….
Phenomenal post! I can relate to this from what I have experienced in the corporate world. I have seen so many leaders who don’t agree with certain things and will not speak up to their superior because of their position which results in people getting hurt. There were even times where I would get caught in the middle and be forced to make some bad decisions. After a couple of those I told myself “Never again”! Thanks for sharing!
This post reminded me of a Colin Powell quote : “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
Thanks for the great reminder on how to encourage truth telling.
I like this quote also “ For the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. ”
John F. Kennedy (1917–1963)