Are We Completely Honest Leaders?

by  Jon Mertz  |  Self Leadership

Honesty is a simple thing yet, in practice, it is done in an incomplete way.

We create a spectrum of honesty in how we practice it. At one end, there is the complete truth, and the other end is no truth. We try to practice honesty in the upper middle, leaning toward complete truth and avoiding telling all lies. Complete honesty is tempered by respect and being respectful. In other words, there is a way to be honest without being rude or crude.

The other spectrum is in where we deliver our honesty. There are three key areas:

  1. Situations
  2. People
  3. Ourselves

As we move from situations to ourselves, we lose our complete honesty. This is an unfortunate aspect to be explored further.

Situations. When we face issues, changes, or challenging events, we usually can focus on them in a forthright manner. After all, it is just about some environmental occurrence that can be assessed, discussed, and resolved. We can see how situations can be handled in a more completely honest way.

What gets in the way of complete honesty, though, is when we don’t want to face reality. We would rather dance around a situation and hope it just goes away. However, we learn that situations just don’t disappear. We need to face them, if we want to move through them, resolve them.

People.  When we face difficult people, our inclination is to be less honest, because we don’t want to be uncomfortable. Let’s face it. Having a critical conversation with someone about a change required, especially if it is behavior-oriented, is not easy. We would rather ignore them and, again, hope they just self-resolve. Of course, they do not.

The honest approach is to have the respectful conversations, providing concrete examples and suggested remedies while listening fully and retaining a firm commitment to a positive resolution.

Ourselves. This is where we get completely weak in our honesty. We don’t like to stand in front of a mirror and accept a critique of ourselves. We just want to have our Stuart Smalley moment of self-affirmation and blindly believe all is right with us.

We fail to really comprehend that no one is perfect and individuals need to be on a path of continual learning and growth. Instead, we fake it. Forget them if they don’t like the way I do things! Right? It’s their problem, not mine!

The other side of this may be when we are too hard on ourselves. We think that we are not doing anything right, and we just want to fade away into to the background. This is an unhealthy approach as well, although most leaders will fall into the first honesty trap of false perfection.

We need to create a floor. Our honesty floor needs to stop us cold from being ignorant, bull-headed, and arrogant. The reasons are straightforward:

  • Situations change. We can choose to adapt as appropriate, or we can choose to be less than honest and become irrelevant.
  • People change, and people need to change. We can choose to let people stay on a wrong and destructive path, or we can choose to have the honest, respectful conversation.
  • Personal leadership requires change. We can choose to stand still in our self-discovery and become a roadblock, or we can choose to learn and grow and become empowering leaders.

We need to be complete, honest leaders. We need to be honest about our situations, about the people we engage with, and about who we have become as a person and a leader.

  • If we are unhappy with a situation, then we need to face it honestly, change it as best we can, and move through it positively.
  • If we are unhappy with a person we work with or associate with, then we need to face them honestly and respectfully, outlining the consequences of their actions, suggesting changes, and offering support along the way.
  • If we are unhappy with ourselves or others are unhappy with us, then we need to face ourselves openly and honestly and determine how we can change to improve and grow as a person and as a leader.

Am I becoming repetitive? I am. It is for a reason. Being an honest leader is what we are called to be. Embrace the higher, complete standard.

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By jon-mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. At Thin Difference, Jon writes and facilitates a conversation on how to empower, challenge, and guide the next generation of leaders.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Mike Henry  |  05 Jun 2012  |  Reply

John, Excellent and challenging post. I confess to the very pattern of behavior you mention. It’s tempting to rationalize a less-than-totally honest interaction with someone because I think a totally-honest interaction will be too much work, or take too much time.

In relation to myself, I’m very aware of a thought I first heard from Andy Andrews in his book, the Noticer. We always judge others by their results, but we judge ourselves by our intentions. That simple disparity makes it very easy to prove the idea that I’m infitely capable of rationalizing my own behavior. It’s something I wrestle with all the time. Your idea about setting a floor is a great one.

One final thought too. I often have to remember that when I’m not being honest in my relationships with others, many times that’s from an unwillingness to understand their perspective and appreciate the differences between us. Often my temptation to be less than honest with them stems from my own tendency to be less than honest with myself.

Great post! Thanks! Mike…

Jon Mertz  |  06 Jun 2012  |  Reply

Great and honest insights, Mike! We all face these challenges, and the good news may be that if we are self-aware of our own tendencies, then we have a better chance of addressing them. I know that this hit me the past few weeks. In some ways, it is not as hard we think in addressing others and the outcome is more positive for all involved. There are exceptions to this, of course.

I do believe you are right with our own self-assessment. If we can get the honesty right with ourselves, it may flow more effectively with the other two.

Thanks again for your insights.


Join The Conversation