Winston Churchill once pointed out that people occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened. The great American author and humorist, Mark Twain, opined that many people must regard truth as their most valuable possession since they were very economical in its use. His advice was simply, “Always do right.” Truth decay is the gradual erosion of honesty and integrity in a relationship, and if not diagnosed and treated promptly, can result in a complete loss of trust. Here are four warning signs of truth decay and suggestions for prevention and treatment.
- Withholding information – This causes suspicion in the leader, a lack of empowerment in the followers, and wasted time and energy as people try to manage the business without all the right information at their disposal. People without information are incapable of acting responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly. Share information about yourself and the organization openly and in the appropriate formats and forums, and set the expectations of how the information should be used. Trust your folks to do the right thing.
- Not “walking the talk” – When leaders say one thing yet do another, followers quickly learn that the leader can’t be trusted. Leaders can not underestimate the power of leading by example. Get clear on what values are most important to you as a leader, communicate those to your team, and give them permission to hold you accountable to living those out.
- Dropping balls – Not following through on commitments is a leading contributor to truth decay. Make sure you under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t commit to do something unless you know you can follow-through. It can be tempting for leaders to think they have to say “yes” to everything, but if you don’t follow through on your commitments, then people begin to doubt that you are a person of your word. As the Scripture advises us “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’, ‘No.'”
- Gossiping – When you engage in gossip or talk disparagingly about a colleague behind their back, you demonstrate a lack of care and respect for others. Your followers observe this behavior and begin to wonder to themselves “If my leader treats others this way, is he/she doing the same to me when I’m not around?” Remember, one of your most precious assets as a leader and colleague is your reputation and good name.
Leadership guru Warren Bennis has noted, “So much lip service is paid to the issue of business ethics; but how do you in fact build an organization distinguished by tangible integrity, moral vision, and transparency? The key is a commitment on the part of the corporate leader to establish a culture of candor in which followers feel free to speak the truth to power, and leaders are bold enough to hear such truth and act on it.”
As leaders we are responsible for setting the example of ethical behavior for our team, and if we pay attention to the warning signs of truth decay and take actions to prevent its spread, we will build a culture of high trust, engagement, and productivity.