A reputation for honesty, defined by Merriam-Webster as “the quality of being fair and truthful,” helps one become more effective in an organization and leadership authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner claim that honesty is the most important trait of successful leaders.
Boundless.com (reference below) provides a slightly longer definition:
Honesty: A facet of moral character that connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, and straightforwardness, along with the absence of lying, cheating, or theft.
The statement of Michigan State Behavioral Competencies lists indicators of honesty and fairness as:
- Sets an example by consistently modeling high standards of performance, honesty, and integrity
- Is willing to change his/her mind when given new information
- Makes sure all ideas receive fair consideration
Honesty and trust
Honesty is closely related to trust, an essential element in effective teamwork, and which Charles Green in Forbes has called “the new core of leadership” (reference below). See Trust.
Honesty and leadership
For Kouzes and Posner, honesty is a crucial element of all five behaviours of effective leaders (see Kouzes and Posner’s 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership® Model).
Boundless.com summarizes the link between honesty and leadership as follows:
In summary, leaders are tasked with balancing the organizational strategies of management with the social elements of leading. This requires leaders to be in tune with their employees’ emotions and concerns in a meaningful and honest way. Effective leaders set strong behavioral examples while communicating their vision to inspire employees. The need for honesty is woven throughout the primary activities of effective leaders.
When truthfulness conflicts with other values
Truthfulness does not at all times trump all other virtues. Ethical behaviour in social settings, including working in organizations, does not include the expectation that one should “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth” at all times in all circumstances. As discussed in several of the topics under Ethics and Accountability, particularly The Means and Ends Dilemma [to come], there are circumstances where not telling the whole truth can be the most ethical course of action.
The dilemmas associated with the truthfulness in real-world settings are explored in posts such as Amy Bloom’s “3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Speak Your Mind” (Oprah.com reference below) which quotes Mark Twain’s adage that “An injurious truth has no merit over an injurious lie. Neither should ever be uttered.”
Michigan State University – Human Resources, Behavioral Competencies, on Atlas at Michigan State Behavioral Competencies, original at https://www.hr.msu.edu/performance/supportstaff/competencies.htm, accessed 15 February 2016.
Boundless, “Honesty in Leadership: Kouzes and Posner.” Boundless Management, 21 July 2015 at https://www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/leadership-9/trait-approach-69/honesty-in-leadership-kouzes-and-posner-346-3944/.
Oprah.com http://www.oprah.com/relationships/When-to-Tell-the-Truth-Tell-the-Truth-or-Lie, accessed 14 February 2016.
Charles Green (2012), Why Trust is the New Core of Leadership, Forbes, 3 April 2012, at http://www.forbes.com/sites/trustedadvisor/2012/04/03/why-trust-is-the-new-core-of-leadership/#159968925e12, accessed 14 February 2016.
Atlas topic and subject
Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 16 February 2016.
Image: Keep Calm-o-Matic, at http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/honesty-is-the-best-policy-3/, accessed 14 February 2016.