Is There a Crack in Your Leadership Foundation?

If you’ve seen George Clooney in The Ides of March, you probably didn’t feel overly happy after the movie was done. A sitting governor has secrets to bear while running for president as his staff fights over who can keep his secrets best. Lives are ruined and political ambitions are dashed. In the end, no one wins when dishonesty is present.

At the heart of every leader is the need to be honest.

  • Honest with himself in terms of his own gifts, preferences and abilities.
  • Honest with those around him.
  • Honest with his expectations and hopes for the future.
  • Honest with his actions, especially when it requires an apology.

This hit home to me recently as I witnessed two conflicts at work. In each case, the leader was facing resistance. He didn’t do anything wrong but because of a perception of dishonesty, the community put up a fight.That’s the thing about honesty- if people don’t feel that you’re a truth-teller, you’re in trouble.

Now, to be fair, I realize that some people see what they want to see and aren’t fair no matter how you slice it. In this case, let’s focus on the reasonable people who still don’t trust the person in leadership.

So what to do if you want to maintain an honest reservoir of leadership or if you’re having problems with people questioning your own honesty? Here are four suggestions:

Overcommunicate. If people don’t think that you have a handle on data or issues, you’ll want to spend more energy going over your notes, following up meetings and writing as clearly as possible. Each email you send is an opportunity to deposit something into the “bank account” that you have with each team member.

Be more precise that ever. This applies to your voicemails, your conversation and the promises that you make. Remember: under promise and over-deliver. Avoid generalities like, “we should look into that” or “I’m not sure.” If you commit to something, write it down.

Build up key relationships. If people think that you’re dishonest, it’s probably because there is a perception of broken promises. When you can, connect with key people in order to build a stronger bridge into the organization. Emails, phone calls and personal notes are all important for relationship-building. Do enough of this honestly and the next meeting you find yourself in will go smoother as a result.

Remember that actions speak louder than words. In the end, behavior matters more than words. If it’s true that you can’t “put lipstick on a pig,” then points 1-3 will be meaningless unless your actions are truthful. Take a look in the mirror and ask God to continually refine and improve the person that you are.

This is the hard, inside work of a leader. It really is an inner journey.

I’m not preaching to the air on this one. I can remember a situation at a previous school when I was accused by a parent of being unfair. This forced me to look in the mirror and evaluate if my actions were in sync with the messages I was sending. Even though the parent did not ever apologize, I felt confident that my actions were honest and appropriate. It hurt to be attacked, but the experience made me a better person.

At the end of the day, honesty forms the very foundation of leadership. Embrace it, for it forms the groundwork through which God can do amazing things.

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