Honesty and Integrity – Key Elements for All Managers and Leaders

"The first step toward greatness is to be honest.”
"The first step toward greatness is to be honest.”
"The first step toward greatness is to be honest.”

First published June, 2014

As the summer draws near I am thinking about the key elements of good and great leadership and the management of people. There are many. ‘Google’ the top 10 traits of great leaders and you will find 20-30 unique traits over numerous lists.

Today, I want to talk about honesty and integrity. These two words appear on everyone’s list. Samuel Johnson is quoted as saying “The first step toward greatness is to be honest.”

Over my years in business, for myself and for others, I was often challenged by a decision I had to make regarding a course of action, a conversation or a plan. I had to decide between door #1 and door #2. Each was legal and above board. But one door would lead me into a space that I would question or feel ever so slightly guilty about. In one case, I wouldn’t tell the whole truth, but the results favoured me over someone else. In another case, one of the options would mean that I would always know that I got the deal by slightly altering the truth about a competitor. And then there was the day that I had the option of cutting a big corner to get a job done – knowing that it would be years until anyone noticed, but that I would be long gone by then.

Many people will look at ethics and honesty as grey as opposed to black and white. This is a mistake. There is nothing grey about being ethical and honest. These people will tell you that we are all sinners – it’s just a matter of scale. No. The decisions we make everyday land on one side or the other – never on the fence.

As the beacon of your team, your company, your division, people will look to you as an example. Cut a corner, make an exception, act slightly unethically and they will ALL take note.

And without honesty and integrity there is no trust.

Jim Clemmer is a writer on all things about leadership. In a recent post he says: “Honesty and integrity are motherhood leadership. And they should be. They are fundamental to leadership. Honesty and integrity produce trust, which produces high levels of confidence. High confidence encourages people to dream and to reach for new horizons. High confidence fosters risk-taking. Risk-taking and initiative are fundamental to organizational change and improvement.“

Our ability to lead others is directly related to our ability to forge strong relationships. Strong relationships are dependent upon trust. Trust provides the glue.

As a leader of a team or group or a whole company we are being asked to communicate information about many things. Strategy, results, plans, deals and more. Some of us will look at the details of the brief and think about twisting the information ever so slightly in order to hide or exaggerate something. No one will know.

A recent survey by The Discovery Group, a company specializing in employee opinion surveys, found that 52% of employees don’t believe the information they receive from management. Misinformation fosters a lack of trust. It will infiltrate all parts of the business going forward. Can you believe that… 52% don’t believe what management says!

This highlights an important point. Honesty is not just about telling the truth. It is just as much about telling all of the truth. Holding back information or even hiding information will eventually catch up on us. Trust gone. The power of your leadership gone.

As a great leader you need to set an example for everyone around you. You need to establish a standard of behavior that includes how you communicate, how you act, how you react and how you interact.

Jack Zenger is a regular contributor to Forbes Magazine. He recently posted: “Our ability and courage to speak honestly with one another is most certainly at the heart of treating one another with respect. Indeed, our research on this leadership quality of integrity paints an interesting picture. We found that leaders who received high scores on honesty and integrity also received high scores on the following five behaviors:

  1. Approachable
    2. Act with humility
    3. Listen with great intensity
    4. Make decisions carefully
    5. Act assertively

Trust, leadership and integrity all lead to other key traits of great leaders. A great career needs a strong foundation of honesty.




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