Are you honest?
If someone were to ask you that question, you’d be taken aback by his or her forwardness. Nobody wants to have their honesty questioned. Yet in our private hours we’d benefit from asking ourselves that question.
Flash back to grade school: “Did you throw that eraser?” the teacher asks. You knew you’d be in less trouble for throwing the eraser than you’d be for lying about it. It took character to own up to your mistake, and before long you figured out that it was better just not to do stuff like throwing erasers in the first place. It was easy to recognize the boundaries back then.
We inevitably get older, but growing up is a choice. Now you’re an adult, you’re in business, and whether you realize it or not, your honesty is challenged by more complex factors. As leaders, we pride ourselves on having integrity, on shooting straight and telling the truth. The truth is, there are pitfalls and temptations out there that will periodically challenge your best intentions.
Five honesty traps to avoid:
Your spouse, your boss, your customer, or your child asks for something. You aim to please, so you say “yes” – hoping but not really sure you can deliver. Maybe you just want to get this guy off your back, or maybe you really, really want to make this sale. Motives don’t matter: anytime you over-promise and under-deliver, you’ve been dishonest.
What does this do to the value of your word? How many times will you try this tactic before you get called on it? It’s more important to be trusted than to be popular. You can still communicate your desire to serve without making promises you can’t keep. This way, everyone wins. The other person will understand your desire to deliver, your intent to do all you can to make it possible, and your word remains intact.
To achieve absolute honesty, keep promises you make. Period.
This one rears its ugly head any time you’ve got an unpleasant or difficult task ahead. How many customers did you call on this week? Maybe you made a couple hundred calls, but only actually reached a few prospects. So how do you answer that question? You could give the number you called, and look like a superhero – or give the number you actually reached, and be the goat. Sometimes the truth is in the details.
To achieve absolute honesty, be specific about your actions.
Lies of Omission
Sometimes we can be just as dishonest by what we don’t say as if we told a bold-faced lie. There’s the old joke about a lady who spent a fortune on a new wardrobe, hid it all in her car’s trunk, and transferred it to her closet after her husband fell asleep. The next morning, she looked stunning in her new outfit. He compliments her and asks whether it’s new. Her response? “Oh, this – it’s just something I had in my closet.” Sure, it came from the closet, but she’s carefully orchestrated a way to conceal her shopping spree.
While we’re not obligated to take out a billboard ad proclaiming all our faults, mistakes, and shortcomings, it’s still important not to dodge the question or hold back important information. When we try to protect ourselves by what we don’t tell, it’s still a lie.
To achieve absolute honesty, don’t lie silently by withholding information.
Lying to Ourselves
Know that nagging voice buried way down inside? The one that you can usually silence by staying busy? When we ignore that voice, the one that’s determined to get our attention, to make us think long and hard about an issue, it’s like lying to ourselves.
Change is usually uncomfortable if not downright frightening. Auden said most people would rather be ruined than changed. That’s one reason we don’t want to listen to our inner voice.
Socrates was harsh but at least partly right when he said the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Listening to your inner voice is simple but not easy. Instead of justifying, explaining, rationalizing and making excuses, simply consider the implications of what you’ve found by examining your life.
To achieve absolute honesty, listen to everything your inner voice has to say instead of just what you want to hear.
Failing to Take Action
This one comes up at least once a year for many people – in the form of New Year’s Resolutions. It looks like this: This year, I’m going to lose weight (stop smoking, spend more quality time with my kids, get out of debt, etc.). January passes, February passes, March, April, May… December again. Nothing happened.
It’s like the guy who’s in debt. Every time he picks up the phone, there’s a creditor on the other end. When he checks the mail, it’s full of bills and notices. It isn’t that he’s not facing the facts; he’s unwilling to deal with them.
The lie? Failing to take action to back up our words. Failing to honor ourselves by honoring our own words. After a while, nobody – not even yourself – will believe what you say. You talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
To achieve absolute honesty, don’t just face the facts—deal with them.
Whether you’re a leader with our without a title, or just a conscientious person trying to fight the good fight, you know the importance of being truthful. Your word is your bond. Awareness is often half the battle. Look out for these landmines that threaten absolute honesty, and stay strong in your commitment to live and lead in truth.
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Excellent, Mark! Thank you so much for writing this today. With my head hung low, I admit to some of these ‘lies.’ Probably my number one is vagueness followed closely by omission. My wife asks me “Have you left the office YET?” I say yes just as I step out the front door (or as my computer is shutting down). I know what she really wants to know but I leave out the details.
I suppose it’s much like the pharisees who were so much more committed to what’s on the outside then inside. I encourage our management team to look at the “quality question” more than the “quantity question.” We have to go deeper. The sales call example you gave is perfect! 🙂 “I made a LOT of calls versus a lot of GOOD calls.” “I conducted four training sessions quarterly versus four GOOD sessions quarterly.” The legalistic act of taking action doesn’t necessarily speak to the quality of the action or the intent of our heart.
Quantity: I went to the gym 3-days a week for a year and didn’t lose a single pound. Quality: I went to the gym and watched some TV and walked a little on the treadmill and made many trips to the water fountain.
Quantity: I read the Bible every day and can’t seem to get any insight. Quality: I opened the Bible and read the first verse of the section while watching TV.
As an aside, we are looking forward to seeing you in Oklahoma City on February 4th. I’m hoping to bring a full group of 10 people to hear your Fred Factor presentation at Crossings.
Thanks again for the great entry today and teaching me a little more about myself.
Mark, thank you for writing this post today, it caused deep introspection. No doubt most people would answer your first question “Are you honest?” with something like “yes, of course I’m honest.” However, when they start to look into the finer points of honesty — as you describe them — the positive answer becomes less clear.
Taking the time to look deeply into our own actions is well worth the pain or discomfort if we are willing to recognize our weaknesses and work on them to turn them into strengths. Your list of ‘honesty traps’ provides a good comparison to help fine-tune our behavior.
That one prompted this thought. We start well and seem to end with a fizzle at times related to our numbers. Honesty would suggest that we are weak at best and need support, a mentor or accountability partner to help us stay focused and on track toward our goals.
I enjoyed this article, it was thought provoking.
Well said Mark. The truth hurts, but is the most powerful thing on earth and that which people identify us by. One quote I took away from this?
“It’s more important to be trusted than to be popular.”
Thank you for a beautiful piece and the comments that follow.