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:
1. Courageously speak up and say the unpopular.
2. Overcome the pressure to conform and say hard things.
3. 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:
1. Isn’t brash.
2. Requires steely resolve.
3. Comes from quiet confidence.
4. Reflects calm, not bravado.
5. Demands focus.
People to Trust
You can 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, exploring my intent and evaluating my methods. I expressed noble intent inappropriately. Honesty is a gift.
I heard him because he respects me. Respect opens ears.
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.