I was boarding the plane heading home after four intellectually challenging days facilitating a leadership development workshop for a group of executive leaders. Values were a key topic that we covered.
As I walked down the aisle to my seat, with the CEO from the program just behind me, I must admit I was hoping for ‘time out’ to mentally rebalance before getting back to my family. But that was not how it was. Upon sitting the CEO asked permission to engage in a discussion about the workshop.
She proceeded to tell me a story that went something like this:
She shared that in the company’s last fiscal year the organization was not doing as well as budgeted, and that discretionary compensation was determined by the extent to which the company hit certain key deliverables and metrics. In addition, in order to hit these targets she had ‘rebalanced’ the weightings of a few of the deliverables so that some incentive compensation would still kick in.
The exact details of the story are not that important; what is important is that as she was telling me the story her neck started to become all blotchy, and then the redness crept up to her chin, and soon her face had a touch of blotchiness scattered here and there. She became increasingly uncomfortable in her own skin.
I think the conversation was just a method of working something out for herself. She had, in effect, been dishonest and had just confronted that reality. In that moment of truth she came to terms with the fact that she had not practiced the very values that she had discussed over the last four days of the leadership workshop; the very values that she had developed and shared with all employees just 6 months ago.
While the above story describes a manipulation of facts that resulted in personal and team gain, the reality is that “bending the truth” to suit oneself is not always that obvious, but nevertheless it is equally deceptive.
Let’s look at a few more examples of “bending the truth” and the motivations for doing so:
- The audience in my presentation were not very engaged because I was given the after lunch slot. This is a good excuse for not having to confront the fact that the presentation was not up to standard. Instead of taking responsibility for my own poor preparation, I attribute responsibility to the time of day. In other words, it was not my fault.
- That mega store makes a lot of money so why should I have to drive back and repay the $10.00 that they overpaid me. It is their own fault for not training their staff properly. This is a good rationalization and justification for keeping something that does not belong to me. Instead of confronting my own greed (I got something for nothing), I blame the store for making the mistake, thus making myself feel a lot better for keeping the money.
- I know we missed the targets, but they were totally unreasonable in the first place, the customers’ expectations are far too high, and competition is getting a lot stronger.If you look at this example, nothing was my fault. I had no responsibility. Everything was out of my control.
The bottom line is that almost all of us bend the truth to some extent and the motivations are always the same. At a most basic level, when we bend the truth we are motivated by some level of fear (e.g. the fear of not looking good, or the fear of failing) or some level of greed (e.g. wanting something for nothing, wanting more than we deserve).
And yet, if you were to ask any of the people involved in the above examples to write down their values on paper they would write down words like honesty, integrity, being respectful, caring, trustworthy, responsible, etc. And they would believe from the depths of their hearts that these words describe their values. None of them would write down words such as dishonest, deceitful, or manipulative. So how do we explain this mismatch? Could it mean that we have lost our way, that we have lost our true north, that we are driven hard by fear and greed to the extent that we are prepared to compromise the truth?
Regaining trust: key qualities of a trusted leader
Let’s take look at seven key attributes of a trusted leader
1. A trusted leader has a clear purpose
This clear purpose is greater than themselves and to which the trusted leader is committed to. The leader has a noble reason for getting out of bed each morning.
2. A trusted leader takes responsibility
A trusted leader takes full responsibility for the way they live their life. The leader owns their choices and the outcomes they experience.
3. A trusted leader is driven by values
A trusted leader bases their leadership on a set of rock solid values. These values guide their every action and decision. Trusted Leaders do not compromise their values in favour of their wants.
4. A trusted leader doesn’t make excuses
A trusted leader faces everything about themself and addresses it. No excuses, rationalizations or justifications.
5. A trusted leader is authentic
A trusted leader lives authentically and shows up publicly as they truly are.
6. A trusted leader gives 100%
A trusted leader gives 100% to everything they’ve committed to and which is aligned with their purpose. They also receive graciously.
7. A trusted leader lives all of the above attributes
Great leaders are trusted! As leaders, the questions we need to ask ourselves are:
- Am I 100% trustworthy?
- Do I knowingly (or unknowingly) play a deceptive game if there can be a personal gain?
- Can I always be counted on to do what is right irrespective of the possible consequences?
- Do I avoid confronting the truth driven by fear, anxiety or greed?
- In times of personal failings, do I justify myself and rationalize away the truth?
- Do I make excuses for my own poor behaviour? Do I attribute my failings to others or to the system?
- As a leader, can I be trusted to tell the truth, expect to hear the truth, and only participate in the truth?
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