I recently met someone who had a tattoo of this Chinese symbol. When I asked her what it meant, she said that it represented “honesty.” As the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies, I was immediately intrigued since honesty is a core component of trust. I did some research on this symbol and learned that it could represent several concepts including “trust” itself. Yet the formation of this character is a compound word that has the meaning of “a person’s word is to be believed.” I was struck by the clear implication for leaders – are you a person whose word is to be believed?
In order to be a leader whose word is believed, it’s necessary to be honest in your dealings with people. Some would say that it’s unrealistic to be honest in all situations. In fact, just recently I read an article on a well-known management website that advocated the top ten reasons to be dishonest in the workplace, most of which were rationalizations for self-centric, me-first egoism. Being honest and ethical is actually a self-esteem boost for a leader. John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said “There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.”
If asked if they were honest, most leaders would say “Yes, of course. I don’t tell lies.” Telling the truth is at the core of being honest, but it’s not the only behavior that people interpret as honesty. Sharing information openly, not coloring or hiding parts of the truth to fit an agenda, and delivering tough news with tact and diplomacy all go into someone forming a perception of you as an honest leader. In a recent survey conducted of over 800 people who attended our webinar, Four Leadership Behaviors That Build or Destroy Trust, 57% of respondents said that the most important behavior of a leader to build trust is acting with integrity; being honest in word and deed.
You can’t establish a relationship of trust without being honest. When you behave honestly, others are able to rely upon your consistency of character. Being reliable, consistent, and predictable in your behavior, decisions, and reactions to critical situations allows your followers to have a sense of security and confidence in your leadership. Being honest also helps the bottom line. Kenneth T. Derr, retired chairman of Chevron Corporation said “There’s no doubt in my mind that being ethical pays, because I know that, in our company, people who sleep well at night work better during the day.”
Honesty is like a behavioral tattoo, the indelible mark of a trusted leader. Do you have it?
(I published a similar version of this article in June 2011 on LeaderChat.org.)