“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
― George Orwell
I want to take a brief look at the topic of “truth” and how it informs and molds the kind of leaders we are. I believe this is a timely subject as we are currently inundated with all kinds of allegations of “fake news” and the “big lie” in our media. This is no longer just an issue for social media but also in what we call “main stream media.” Truth, it seems, is not in vogue anymore. While that may be so in some aspects of our lives is it so in our workplace?
Back in The Day!
I became interested in the importance of leadership in the Army back in the days when I jumped out of airplanes for fun. I was based in Calgary at the Currie barracks with the PPCLI (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry). Leadership was woven into the fabric of everything we did and so too was the typical evaluation of who the “good” leaders were and who the “crappy” leaders were. We all had opinions and most of the time we were only too eager to share them with each other.
The Truth Factor
One trait that really showed up time and time again was whether the leader was truthful. This issue of truthfulness swung in two distinct directions: first was whether a leader told the truth. Could they be counted on to give you the straight goods. Were they honest with you (when they could be) and straight with you when they couldn’t. That is to say if they couldn’t answer because of operational security or if they simply didn’t know, were they upfront about it.
This seemed to be very important to all involved. Leaders who were straight with you (honest) about something tended to be in high demand – everyone wanted to be in their squad, unit or company. Leaders who had a reputation for lying were not in high demand and what’s more people under their command actively worked against them.
The second part of this was whether a leader would tell you when you were out of line or doing something good. This was big deal. In our line of work, going into combat ill prepared (and not knowing it) could be a literal death sentence. People wanted leaders who were not afraid to tell them what they wanted, whether you delivered that and what you needed to do to make sure you delivered it the next time. Also was a leader unafraid to tell the truth when you did something well and commend you for it.
In Calgary I had a leader who was in the “avoid at all costs” category. He lied on a regular basis to his team members. Never hesitated to take credit for someone else’s work and used his team to advance his career but never used his position to advance their career.
Nobody Steps Up for A Truth Challenged Leader
You can imagine what his platoon’s performance rating was like. I don’t know if he ever figured it out or not or whether he even cared but his lack of truthfulness was like a dark flag that flew over his leadership and we all acted accordingly.
Honesty is The Only Policy
Needless to say that style of leadership left an impression with me and I determined to never emulate it. Later I would run into studies around truthfulness and leadership and those results (thankfully) always reinforced the crucial role of truthfulness in leadership. Gallup tells us that only 32-34% of employees are engaged at work while at the same time one research group (15Five) had results showing “only 15 percent of workers surveyed said their current companies were doing a “very good” job fostering honesty at the office.” See the connection.
You don’t have sit down with staff and share who you dated in high school. But you do have to be honest with them about what you expect, how they are doing and what needs to change. It is a sign of respect! Want to drive improvement? Be truthful. Performance Leadership – Think About It!