Keys to Trust: Honesty

part 7 in a series on building trust

Keys to Trust: Honesty

I can’t remember if it was my 8th or 9th grade year, but I was goofing off in the hall way with some friends. The results of that day taught me an important life lesson that I hold close to me to this day. A lesson about the importance of honesty.

Keys To Trust: Honesty

About the time I turned to go down another hall, a friend jumped on my back throwing me off balance. Carrying a backpack that most likely weighed more than I did at the time, the momentum carried me into the sheetrocked wall placing a nice hole in the wall about 6 foot tall and 3 foot wide. I knew I was in trouble. No one saw us and this was before cameras were in schools, so it would have been real easy to run away.

Having a guilty conscious, I marched down to the principal’s office and asked to see Mr. Rose. I told him the story and apologized for damaging the wall. My friend ran off, but I didn’t throw him under the bus, I told him that I wanted to take all the blame.

What I didn’t know that day was there was a witness. A teacher who had seen the whole thing take place. That day, both of us were found guilty and sentenced to our punishment. My friend denied the entire thing and received a suspension and had to pay for the damaged. For telling the truth, I was forced to stay after school and paint the replacement wall one day.

Honesty Is The Best Policy

There are times that we cannot be free flowing with information as leaders. Complicated issues cause turmoil within organizations, but privacy laws, personnel issues, and other problems only complicate the issues further. Leaders do owe it to their teams not to lie about a situation, even if it means saying they can’t talk about something.

It is the easy way out to lie and say nothing is happening or play something off. The problem is the team will almost always learn the truth in the end, making you look like a liar and a fool. When you get caught lying, even with the best of intentions, you cash in chips in your influence and trust accounts.

At the end of the day, honesty really is the best policy. Dave Ramsey (@DaveRamsey) talks about the importance of being honest in Entreleadership. In the book, Dave mentions that sometimes private things come up and he refuses to lie about it. Taking the high road is harder, but when a leader who has built trust and influence among the team says they can’t talk about something, the team trusts the leader is doing the right thing.

Sometimes You Can’t Be Completely Honest

Fitness star and business expert Chalene Johnson (@ChaleneJohnson) spoke about honesty with her team in an episode of her podcast Build Your Tribe. In the episode, Chalene talked about how hard it was keeping things from her team while she was selling her company. The employees to Chalene are more than team members, they’re like family. At the end of the day, Chalene said she had a legal duty to protect some information and decided not to comment on things openly. She was never dishonest about it.

There are positions of trust in companies and governments that require the steadfast protection of information. Lawyers must protect their clients information so much that there is a attorney-client privilege. But that is not good practice for everything in every situation.

What You Risk When You Aren’t Honest

People who grew up watching the news with Walter Cronkite knew that he always did his best to provide the facts and nothing more. He connected with people in a way that built trust and honesty due to his consistent record of providing the truth. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams once was one of those highly trusted individuals. Unfortunately, he took liberty in modifying several stories that were later proven as lies. He went from the top of the journalistic mountain to the hidden valleys due to his mistakes.

Remember as a leader, you set the culture of the organization. Failure to show the importance of honesty will only amplify the issues within your own organization. If your team catches you lying, they understand that lying is an accepted practice. Before long they will be lying to your customers, who of course will lose respect for your brand. In the days of social media, one viral post is all it takes to dismiss you to the valley with Brian Williams.


There are times when you cannot disclose everything, the important thing to do here is remain a person of integrity. If you have sworn an oath of silence to keep a secret, you must do so (unless it involves harming someone). Remember, if you find it easy to be dishonest in small situations, it will eventually be easy in larger situations.

It’s a hard walk as a leader isn’t it?

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Keys to Trust

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