A Leader and Honesty

While attending a networking event in Dallas, I had the pleasure of exchanging dialogue with many interesting individuals. In one particular conversation, a young man, after discovering that I am a leadership coach and consultant, asked a rather insightful question: “What do you think is the most important quality in a leader?” I told him that the studies of Kouzes and Posner assert that honesty is the single most important ingredient in the leader-follower relationship. To be fully confident in a leader, and be willing to commit one’s resources and life to following them, one needs to believe in the character and integrity of the leader. All things considered, Kouzes and Posner assert that credibility is the foundation of leadership.

In his book, There’s No Such Thing as Business Ethics, John Maxwell asserts that a person can, and should, live by only one standard of ethics. It kind of goes along with the “weakest link in the chain” idea. If a person is honest in church, but shady in business, then that person’s level of integrity is of the shady business sort. Maxwell’s premise for the book is the “Golden Rule” – to treat others as you would want to be treated. I want others to be honest with me.

Aside from the intentional lies and deception that erode a leader’s influence, there are times when a leader can unintentionally say or do something that will have an adverse affect on society. While these acts may be done in ignorance, they are no less harmful. Neither an individual’s well meaning attitude nor sincerity absolve the leader from the responsibility of their comments and actions. When this occurs, a leader will be honest with himself and others, take responsibility for their actions, and make every effort to right the wrong.

Derek Kidner makes the statement that “No law will protect people when integrity is absent.”
Now granted, I grew up in a small town in Texas, but the standard policy was that a man’s word was his bond and a handshake was all it took to close a deal. I grew up hearing that “honesty is the best policy.” Leadership is influence, and our influence is built on our credibility and honesty. I sometimes wonder if there has been a change in policy and I did not receive the memo.

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  1. Great topic – I KNOW I didn’t get the memo, and judging by the number of people who I talk to who are fed up with others playing the victim, they didn’t get the memo either! Thanks for sharing – the lesson of responsibility cannot be over stated for a leader.

  2. Thanks for putting the impotance of honesty into words. I agree that it is crucial, even foundational, for a leader to be open and honest. Because it creates the glue that will hold a team or organization together – that glue is trust.

  3. Thanks Matt. Yes, a simple leadership lesson I learned in Ranger school – I am responsible for everything that happens, or fails to happen, when I am in charge. Authority call be delegated, responsibility cannot. It resonates with the famous quote “The Buck stops here!” (Harry S. Truman).

  4. Tim, I agree. Honesty is key. A leader must have the grit to always be honest, and the grace to “speak the truth in love.”

  5. Thanks Dr Papa John. I think that you have verbalized (?) what so many of us feel. The memo has been sent – read by those who need it to justify their actions – and detroyed so that society as a whole will believe that lack of honesty and lack of integrity have always been the norm. No more handshake deals. No more “I give you my word.” When the need arises, the dishonest leader will convince the majority that they have misinterpreted the original truth and cause the followers to doubt themselves in an effort to maintain “control”. Before long, the truth will disappear and those that hold fast to those principles will be outcast by their society. In the end, they will be both redeemed and rewarded – though the journey may be rough and lonely.

  6. Terry,

    These are indeed challenging times ~ but with great opportunities for personal growth and character building.



  7. Dr. John,

    Thanks for this great reminder. Unfortunately so many people in life figured out this lesson too late.But I do believe that God can restore a persons reputation, but it won`t come without a cost. That cost may be burned bridges, and broken relationships, but I believe if you do the right thing until, God can even work miracles in those situations as well.

    Live Full Out With Passion & Purpose,

    .-= Susan Davis´s last blog ..P90x and Networking … what do they have in common? =-.

  8. Susan,

    I would agree with you. I’m glad God is in the business restoration and 2nd chances, and 3rd, and 4th, and ….

    Thanks & Blessings,


  9. Thanks David. You are right. There is a vast difference between wisdom and knowledge. For me, I believe wisdom is the practical application of knowledge. It’s the doing aspect that can trip me up at times! Thanks again. Blessings ~ John

  10. Dr. John,

    No, I don’t think you failed to get the memo that the rules had changed….I think others just threw away the original memo that set the rules – LOL!

    That could explain why there is such a lack of true leadership. On a more positive note, those of us who are honest and authentic in all areas of our lives tend to stand out. The cream always rises to the top, right?
    .-= Kathy Jodrey´s last blog ..How To Add Facebook Fan Page to Blog In Less than 5 Minutes =-.

  11. Whew! I was a little concerned!

    I am always amazed how someone can knowingly operate without integrity and think it will go undiscovered. Time and truth seem to go hand in hand.

    Thanks Kathy!

  12. Krista,

    Yes, Kouzes and Posner, they are good. I will be leading an Elite Performer seminar this fall in Ontario and using them as a primary resource. The things I appreciate most about their work is that it is research based, valid, and reliable.

    Thanks and Blessings,


  13. Glyna,

    Absolutely. Trust is built upon the level of integrity and honesty of the leaders. People typically only commit themselves and their resources to the level of trust they have in the leadership.

    Thanks & Blessings,


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