Leadership through honesty

Trust and honesty have such a significant role in our modern societies. With the World Wide Web, we are more transparent than ever and can access various databases at any time and from anywhere. Meanwhile, there is an overabundance of “knowledge”. Truth and falsity cannot always be determined with certainty. There is also no way to verify everything. We have to trust that the information we receive from others in various ways is accurate. However, what exactly is truth?

Sometimes the truth hurts.  It is something we have all experienced. We also would like the truth to feel authentic, at least that is what we hope for. Truth telling and receiving both require courage. A push past our comfort zone. There may seem to be only negative things we have to tell each other in the name of truth. 

My experiences with conflict-ridden teams, however, have often involved a lack of appreciation.

One could even say that the motto “nothing said is enough praise” is actively practiced in these teams. Regardless of whether this occurs consciously or unconsciously, it is harmful to the team’s atmosphere. 

We clearly need leaders who have the courage to lead by demonstrating that one does not make oneself vulnerable just because one praises and thanks each other and makes a positive contribution to the team.

Often this is not even a matter of respect, but rather of etiquette, which we seem to have forgotten in our fast-paced, pressured world.

How often do the leaders among you reflect on how you interact with others? How do you deal with honesty when it goes positive or negative?

There is an inextricable link between respect and honesty. Honesty is impossible without respect, which protects the truth from being too hurtful. 

The road to honesty, on the other hand, begins much more with oneself than with others.

Is there anything I can honestly admit to myself and how authentic am I in my behavior? In order to be honest with others, you must first be honest with yourself. Otherwise, it will be impossible for you to fulfill your central leadership duties and be a role model for your team members.

My view of honesty starts with a certain degree of consistency and inner harmony. People have a feeling of harmony if they’re able to carry what they feel, think, and mean from the inside to the outside. And this may sound rather egoistic, since we are not always in a position to positively impact those around us with the thoughts, feelings, and actions we take. They may even be hurtful. This is where the easiest path to ensuring a certain level of what feels like respect begins for most people: lying.

How many sociologists have written and explored the theme of deception in our human history?

The most selfless thing we can do is to also be honest about our weaknesses. It is important to trust that our weaknesses will not be disrespected, but that we can even complement each other about them. It is important to understand that a weakness does not have to be a weakness always, but it can also be a strength in some situations. This falls under the category of dealing constructively with one’s own abilities.

There is often a fear among people, especially leaders, about disclosing their imperfections. Managers expect themselves to be shining examples who have no weaknesses. Therefore, it is improper to reveal one’s own shortcomings to one’s employees or to claim not to be “perfect”. In contrast, I have observed that those leaders who have been the most successful in their team leadership practices have also engaged their team with a reflective attitude toward their own shortcomings. When I am aware and also make my team aware that there are honestly tasks and topics I do not enjoy doing or in which I am weak, then the beginning of constructive cooperation begins. That is, at least in trusting team constellations. These leaders remove the taboo of making mistakes at the same time. Team members are more comfortable talking about mistakes and dealing with them. My trust balance in the team is extremely high when there is this level of trust. When this is achieved, a culture for failure can start to emerge. It is logical that those teams and leaders who acknowledge and address mistakes are more successful than those who keep silence about their mistakes and weaknesses.

So, if I am transparent about value-creating and less value-creating actions, desirable behavior will be encouraged and undesirable behavior will be allowed to flourish. Meanwhile, I give people confidence and create confidence.

Honesty with oneself and, consequently, with others is the royal road to success and especially to successful leadership.

My learning could be your learning:

1. A person’s honesty is not only about how they interact with others, but also about how they reflect upon themselves.

2. Being a shining example starts not only by talking about your greatness, but also by being transparent on your shortcomings. 

3.  Successful leaders are working consequently on building a team culture, in which errors are not only allowed, but also are value creating.

Would you like to know more about this? Here’s the content to read:

Ron A. Carucci (2021): To Be Honest: Lead with the Power of Truth, Justice and Purpose

Eric Ries (2011) The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

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