Challenge yourself through honesty
Honesty is an essential component of integrity and is a building block of trustworthiness. Honesty can be leveraged well beyond a virtue of being truthful. Leaders will be influenced by diverging opinions, conflicting interests, external pressures, and their own experiences. Honesty is the one virtue that can help a leader see beyond these influences and do what is right, and what is best. It also embodies one’s ability to communicate well and remain humble.
When we are not honest with another, it means we are also not honest with ourselves. Whether you are telling a “white lie” to a friend or committing perjury in court, you have somehow convinced yourself that it is acceptable, or “for the better”. Deep down this likely feels crummy and undermines all the other positive leadership virtues that we embrace. Use honesty as the mechanism to avert pressuring influences and to constantly challenge your own decisions. Mark Twain once said, “If you always tell the truth, you never have to remember anything.” Consistent and compassionate honesty will impress all those around us in ways that cannot be measured.
- Speak about others as though they are in the same room with us. This is age-old wisdom that keeps us honest and reinforces professionalism (as well as our positive reputation). We should avoid making comments about others that we would not want them to hear, especially without context. If your comment is a constructive criticism that they should hear, then you should talk to them directly. Rarely are these types of criticisms appropriate for public discussion. If you have a thought or comment that is not constructive in nature, then there is no value in sharing it aloud (see aforementioned note on the detriment of gossip).
- Assume that anything we type or write could be printed in the newspaper. This will both ensure that we communicate professionally, and will mitigate the risk that we type or write something that will come back to harm our character or reputation.
- Interpret and analyze information objectively. We all process information through personal filters and biases. We should be sensitive to the vulnerabilities of our own objectivity. Ockham’s razer is a problem-solving principle that that reminds us that when numerous answers or explanations may exist for a problem, that we should consider the one with the fewest assumptions. This razor can help lessen the influence of our internal filters and biases. We need to be aware of the reinforcing influence that we have created within our social network that may inhibit our awareness of how others outside our social network may process the same information.
- Strive to understand another’s point of view. This skill is required to engage in truly authentic and constructive conversation or debate with another. We should do this both in the context of specific situations, and as an exercise done on our own time. We should identify high-stakes issues and try to understand the numerous viewpoints. We should be aware that most opinions are shaped through unique and individual experiences, and often over the course of many years. We may never be able to truly understand another’s point of view or emotions surrounding a specific issue. Our ability to accept this type of dissonance is critical.
- Be strong enough to apologize. One of the most important qualities of a leader is the ability to admit fault and acknowledge mistakes. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a weakness, but rather is a strong example of insight, trustworthiness, and respect for others.
- Rarely are the words we use neutral. When we feel passionate about something, we are likely to use adverbs and adjectives that are persuasive in favor of our own opinion. We are also likely to emphasize the points that support our own opinions, or omit certain points or even facts. Be aware of this subconscious and biased tendency. Leverage your honesty in a positive and honest way.
- Share relevant stories and anecdotes objectively. When we are sharing a story or recapping a conversation, we should not impersonate another’s dialogue or mannerism with sarcastic impressions. Out of respect of that individual and our own professional reputation, we should speak objectively and without exaggerated bias. We also risk seeming like a fool or a jerk.
- Understand that we make decisions each day that WE feel are best decisions. With billions of people in the world, there are millions of diverging opinions. The fundamental attribution error explains that we have a tendency to believe that actions of others is a direct reflection of their character, regardless of the circumstances. In contrast, we believe that the decisions we make are influenced by an incredible amount of accurate information and special circumstances, which we are intimately aware. In the same regard, we often naively attribute others’ decisions to simplicity, and that a single action is representative of their entire character. We should have respect and empathy for the decisions that others make and understand that they too are dealing with timely information and unique circumstances which we are likely unaware.
- Develop a keen ability to understand data, and its relevant meaning (if any). This includes statistics, graphs, trends, and even qualified statements. In many cases, we cannot manage what we cannot measure. Data can help us counteract the ignorance of absolutism statements, and allow us to understand nuances. Data can help refine our personal understanding of the meaning derived from studies and debunk myths. A simple time study using a log is a great example of a practical exercise that can provide objective data to help ratify how we think we are spending our time. Data collection and analysis can be deceiving unless we truly understand the method. An example of this is the now historically infamous “Dewey defeats Truman” headline from the 1948 Chicago Tribune that erroneously predicted election results using unwittingly skewed data. It has been often said that there are such things as lies, damned lies, and statistics.