Leadership and Truth Telling

Provost Blog


Leadership and Truth Telling

December 18, 2012

Leaders frequently talk about the need for transparency and authenticity. It is commonly accepted and fashionable today to encourage transparency in all areas of life and leadership. However, living and practicing truth telling and integrity in all matters seems to be a difficult task for effective leaders today.

In our world it appears that being highly truthful and careful to clarify all statements is less of a concern on the part of leaders as well as followers. Today, being dishonest or telling half-truths seems to be commonplace and even acceptable even when in contrast we are quick to judge and criticize those who have highly visible moral or financial failures. Perhaps we are less willing to hold them accountable to live and practice leadership with a high degree of integrity because society today regularly overlooks lying and exaggeration among high profile leaders. There is a disconnect between how we judge leaders for lying and being deceitful versus judging them for much more serious sins or illegal activities. We are ok to let leaders tell half-truths if they portray a positive and likeable image. Holding those in authority accountable for truth telling does not seem to be of high value and importance. However, I contend that demonstrating integrity and truth in all communication and interactions is critical to effective leadership.

Why do those in top positions so frequently communicate in shades of grey? Leaders who desire to be well-liked or who have an overwhelming desire to please people can easily fall into the trap of communicating with less than accurate information. Leaders who have a high need to be liked or favored are often willing to tell people what they want to hear.

Why is it important to speak and lead with truth and integrity?

  1. People deserve to know the truth.
  2. Truth telling clarifies and defines actions and information.
  3. Truth telling creates real authenticity and provides consistency between past actions and current and future actions.

Telling people hard things can be difficult. But it is far better to tell people hard things rather than avoid telling them just because you do not want to be disliked or criticized. Leaders who speak the truth even when it may represent bad news are willing to do what is right even in the face of experiencing criticism. It is important to applaud true authentic leadership – leadership which operate based on truth and integrity.