Honesty is Hard


Leadership Foundation

HONESTY is one of the three parts of the Foundation in the Power of 3 Leadership process as pictured below.  It is defined as seeing the world and your situation in it the WAY THAT IT IS.  Not the way you want it to be, not the way you think it should be, nor the way that it could be if the people in charge would just get things right.  In other words, “Keepin’ it real.”  It is easy to say, but difficult to do in reality.


Many comics tell the story of the wife who asks the husband, “Does the dress make me look fat?”  Everyone laughs at the impossible predicament as the husband tries to answer the question.  Since “Honesty is the Best Policy,” many would assume that the answer is, “Yes.”  If this was your response, move your pillow and blanket into the doghouse where you will be sleeping tonight.  He could lie with the intent to spare her feelings, and say, “No.”  Naturally, the wife already knew if the dress made her look fat.  She knows it’s a lie.  You may not have to sleep with the dog tonight, but everything you say later will met with the question, “Is he telling me the truth or lying to me again?”  Neither of these choices is optimal.  So, what is a husband to do with a question like this?


The answer is to first understand the world you are in at that moment and see it the WAY IT IS.  The wife already knows better than anyone on the planet if she is gaining weight and whether the dress emphasizes it.  There is utterly no need to get her husband to confirm that.  So, she asks an alternative question about the dress and her size.  The real question is, “I’ve been gaining weight and I’m worried you will lose interest in me.  Is that true?”  Now you can see why neither of the “traditional” answers to the questions apply.  The HONEST answer is, “Honey, I love that dress on you just as I have loved you since we first met and will always love you regardless of what you wear.”

So which answer is most likely to get the desired result for both the wife and the husband?  The third one, of course, because HONESTY is not about a simplistic “truth.”  It is about a deeper understanding of your situation and an answer that addresses the core issue you are confronting.  Once you do that, the actions you take are easier to discern.


It is often hard to know the “truth” about the world and your situation in it.  Often, the situation is uncertain, and you lack complete information.  So, what do you do?  It is a truism that, “People make up in fear what they lack in knowledge.”  Nevertheless, as a leader, you MUST decide and MUST act.  Choosing not to decide or not to act is also a decision and action.

The common mistake is to try to act to alleviate the outcomes you fear.  But this leads to another problem.  Along with TALENT and HONESTY in the leadership FOUNDATION is COURAGE.  COURAGE is defined as overcoming fear, taking actions to benefit others, and disregarding the costs to yourself.  The greater the fear created, the harder it becomes to act with COURAGE.  That is why the husband chose to lie out of fear of telling the “truth.”  When lying seems like a preferred option, think again.  Perhaps, fear is driving your actions and preventing you from acting with COURAGE to benefit someone else.


The best choice is to understand your situation with HONESTY.  That includes assessing whether you have sufficient understanding of the situation to take any particular actions you might deem necessary.  All action carries with it the possibility of unintended consequences which may be severe.  The feeling of fear resulting from your contemplated actions is the easiest way to understand that your evaluation of the WAY IT IS may be incomplete or misleading.  When that happens, look for ways to better understand your situation in order to come to a position with more HONESTY.  When you have exhausted your ability to bring more clarity to your assessment of the situation (or when time pressure or other factors preclude further assessment) you must choose to act.  But how do you decide what to do?  The husband who understood the real issue had the better chance to act successfully in response.

Few situations in leadership are so easy to assess that the best actions are always clear and easy to choose.  Invariably doubts remain.  If you are shying away from action out of fear or you are acting solely to reduce the consequences of an undesired result for you, you are not being a leader.  The great leader relies on their core principles to make decisions under those circumstances rather than looking for the perfect answer.  Overcoming fear is the prerequisite to demonstrate COURAGE.  Remember also that perfection is the enemy of the good.  Progress is the desired outcome even if perfection is the preferred goal.  The leader must act and the results of the leader’s action (or inaction) are the leader’s responsibility alone.


The purpose of the HONESTY portion of the FOUNDATION is to allow the leader to use their TALENT to act with COURAGE.  You do this best when you have best understanding of the WAY IT IS.  This reduces your fear of taking action to benefit others without regard to the cost to yourself.  Leaders are expected to see a better future and to pursue making that vision a reality.  You know, the “vision” thing.  The cold, hard fact is that the best leaders are not necessarily the best visionaries.  But ALL of the great visionary leaders started by clearly seeing the WAY IT IS with HONESTY.  That enabled them to use their TALENT to act with COURAGE.

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