Who is that Man in the Mirror?
Let’s talk about honesty and integrity. These are two words that people often associate with successful leaders. And they’re two words that are nearly always tied together when talking about leadership traits. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to be honest in all your dealings without treating people fairly and with integrity in the process. Likewise, you can’t operate with integrity if you lie all the time. The two traits are inevitably entwined in the psyche of successful people – whether they’re considered a leader by current social standards or not. Honesty and integrity are traits that everyone benefits from.
When I was a kid, my mom used to tell my siblings and me that when we did something wrong, we should tell her immediately. ‘Fess up, so to speak. She said that I’d get in far less trouble by owning up to what I’d done than I would if I lied about it. Breaking something was bad, but lying about it and blaming someone else was worse. In practice, I found that she was as good as her word. While there may have been consequences for breaking something or making bad choices, they were always less severe than if I’d lied and tried to cover up what I’d done. That really made an impression on me, and to this day I try to live every day and handle every situation with honesty and truth.
Honesty in business is as important as it is in personal life. Leaders who tell the truth are leaders that others want to emulate. And perhaps more importantly, they’re the leaders that employees want to work for, the leaders who inspire and motivate others to do a good job and work to help the company meet its strategic and financial goals. Honest leaders create an environment of trust within an organization and foster a safe environment for experimental risk-taking that often leads to a stellar performance on all levels.
Honest leaders are strong, because telling the truth is sometimes very difficult and an unpopular thing to do. Honest leaders are also vulnerable. After all, if they expect honesty from themselves, they probably value that same trait in the people they surround themselves with. This means they want to hear the truth when it applies to them, their behavior, or their decisions. No one is perfect, and even the best leaders sometimes make mistakes. It’s better to know when something is going wrong and have the ability to make changes than to continue moving forward on an erroneous or dangerous path.
Integrity is another trait found in successful leaders and is tied very closely with honesty. In fact, the dictionary definition of integrity is this: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. I like the definition that a smart manager once gave me: Would you want to see that behavior on the front page of the Washington Post? That question really makes one pause to think. If the answer is no, it’s time to choose a different response to the situation.
Operating a company with honesty and integrity leads to success. A company that uses these tenets as guiding principles is a company that others want to partner with customers want to buy products and services from.
I’ve found that living a life of honesty and integrity provides other benefits, too. I sleep well at night, knowing that I haven’t intentionally harmed or mistreated anyone during the day. And living these principles allows me to face myself in the mirror each morning and be happy with what I see. Or rather, with who I am. And that’s the biggest benefit of all.