When you are in a leadership
position, whether it's in a
business or as the head of a
family, honesty and integrity are not as
important as money or shelter or a
telephone. Honesty and integrity are
infinitely more important than any of
those things. They're about as important
as having air, food, and water.
For a leader, honesty and integrity
are absolutely essential to survival. A
lot of business people don't realize how
closely they're being watched by their
subordinates. Remember when you
were a kid in grammar school, how you
used to sit there staring at your teacher
all day? By the end of the school year,
you could do a perfect imitation of all
your teacher's mannerisms. You were
aware of the slightest nuances in your
teacher's voice — all the little clues that
distinguished levels of meaning, that
told you the difference between bluff
and "now I mean business."
You were able to do that after eight or
nine months of observation. Suppose
you had five or 10 years. Do you think
there would have been anything about
your teacher you didn't know?
As a manager, do you think there's
anything your people don't know
about you right this minute? If you
haven't been totally aboveboard and
honest with them, do you really think
you've gotten away with it? Not too
likely. But if you've been led to
believe that you've gotten away with
it, it's most likely because people are
afraid of you. That's a problem in its
But there's another side of the coin.
In any organization, people want to
believe in their leaders. If you give
them reason to trust you, they're not
going to go looking for reasons to think
otherwise, and they'll be just as perceptive
about your positive qualities
as they are about the negative ones.
A situation that happened some
years ago at a company in the Midwest
illustrates this perfectly. The wife of anew employee experienced complications
in the delivery of a baby. There
was a medical bill of more than
$10,000, and the health insurance
company didn't want to cover it. The
employee hadn't been on the payroll
long enough, the pregnancy was a preexisting
In any case, the employee was desperate.
He approached the company
CEO and asked him to talk to the
insurance people. The CEO agreed,
and the next thing the employee knew,
the bill was gone and the charges were
rescinded. When he told some colleagues
about the way the CEO had so
readily used his influence with the
insurance company, they just shook
their heads and smiled. The CEO had
paid the bill out of his own pocket,
and everybody knew it, no matter how
quietly it had been done.
An act of dishonesty can't be hidden,
and it will instantly undermine
the authority of a leader. But an act of
integrity is just as obvious to all concerned.
When you're in a leadership
position, you have the choice of how
you will be seen, but you WILL be
seen one way or the other, make no
mistake about it.
Leadership of a family demands
even higher standards of honesty and
integrity, and the stakes are higher too.
You can replace disgruntled employees
and start over. You can even get a
new job for yourself, if it comes to that.
But your family can't be shuffled like a
deck of cards. If you haven't noticed,
kids are great moral philosophers,
especially as they get into adolescence.
They're determined to discover
and expose any kind of hypocrisy,
phoniness, or lack of integrity on the
part of authority figures, and if we're
parents, that means us. It's frightening
how unforgiving kids can be about
this, but it really isn't a conscious decision
on their part; it's just a necessary phase of growing up. They're testing
everything, especially their parents.
The first time I saw Arthur Miller's
great play Death of a Salesman, I found
it hard to believe that a son would so
completely lose faith in his father
based on a single incident of dishonesty.
But over the years, I've seen that
once a parent has lost moral authority,
it is very, very difficult to regain it.
Studies have shown that children are
extremely understanding about many
things. If you accidentally step on a
favorite toy, that will be quickly forgiven,
if not forgotten. If you lose your job
and the family has to move, they'll
adjust. If parents just can't get along
and decide to divorce, most kids can
handle it. But they can't handle dishonesty.
It can take many, many years
before that will be forgiven.
As a person of integrity yourself,
you'll find it easy to teach integrity to
your kids, and they in turn will find it
easy to accept you as a teacher. This is
a great opportunity and also a
because kids simply must be
taught to tell the truth: to
mean what they say and to
say what they mean.
There was something interesting
about the Native
Americans of the Southwest
and the skills they felt were
important for their children to
know. Hiding was one of
them. In a desert environment
where you would think there
was nowhere to hide, except
possibly by squeezing yourself
behind a cactus plant, these
children could literally disappear.
Running was another
very important ability. Beginning as
young as six or seven years of age, children
were taught to run long distances
while holding a mouthful of water, in
order to develop breath control. Of
course, both running and hiding were
skills that could save the life of a child,
as well as preserve the security of the
Kids today must be taught skills
that will save their lives as well.
Integrity is one of those vitally important
skills. Maybe it's hard to convince
yourself of that. I heard a story of a
man who flew propeller-drive antisubmarine
planes for the Navy, piloting
them on long flights over water.
He told of an incident when a storm
was coming up and they were faced
with a difficult navigational problem
in order to avoid it. The problem
became even more difficult when the
navigator revealed that he couldn't
handle it. He had cheated his way
through some parts of the training
because that training material didn't
seem like it would ever be useful.
I can't promise that it will ever save
their lives, but nothing you will ever do
is more important than teaching integrity
to your children. There's an old saying: "Those who can, do. And those
who can't, teach." But you can't really
teach honesty unless you are honest
yourself. You really can't teach integrity
unless you also live with integrity.
It might be tempting, for the sake of
consistency, to assert that you should
always tell the whole truth exactly as
you see it, in every situation. But I've
lived long enough in the real world to
know things just aren't that simple.
Shakespeare wrote of one of his characters, "Every man has his fault, and honesty
is his. He is more honest than wise."
Just as there is a difference between
blowing hot air and premeditated dishonesty,
there is also a difference
between lying and recognizing the
importance of diplomacy. How can you
tell the difference? Your gut feelings
will tell you. By the time they reach
adulthood, most people have extremely
accurate ethical barometers built into
their heads and hearts. We may choose
to ignore what that ethical barometer
tells us, but it's there nonetheless.
When you're in a leadership role,
there's at least one situation in which
you're almost always justified in
stretching the truth to some degree,
and here it is: You should overstate
your degree of enthusiasm for your
employee's work. Your recipe of dealing
with subordinates should include
at least three parts praise for every one
criticism. Use many, many carrots, and
very few sticks.
Will this stretching of the truth cost
you respect? I don't think so. Will a little
sugar-coating of your true feelings
foster greater productivity, better work,
and improved morale? Absolutely, and
that conclusion is supported by a great
deal of behavioral science research.
Praise is one of the world's most effective
teaching and leadership tools.
Criticism and blame, even if deserved,
are counterproductive unless all other
approaches have failed.
Call it diplomacy, psychology, or
just plain flattery. It brings out the best
in people, and it's the grease that keeps
the machine of human interactions
functioning smoothly. Yes, honesty is
the best policy, but sometimes a little
less than total honesty is better.
We all know people who have gotten
ahead as a result of dishonest or unethical
behavior. When you're a kid, you
think that never happens, but when you
get older, you realize that it does. Then
you think you've really wised up. But
that's not the real end of it. When you
get older, you see the long-term consequences
of dishonest gain, and you realize
that it doesn't pay in the end.
I've seen people who have made millions
through questionable business
tactics, and I've also seen a higher percentage
of health problems among
those people than any insurance actuary
could possibly account
for. I've seen people who
decided to sell out their
friends or their business partners
in order to cash a big
check, and those people wind
up looking 20 years older than
their age. Stick around, keep
your eyes open, and you'll see
that it's true.
"Hope of dishonest gain is
the beginning of loss." I don't
think that old saying refers to
loss of money. I think it means
loss of self-respect. You can
have all the material things in
the world, but if you've lost
respect for yourself, what do
you really have? The only way
to ever attain success and enjoy it is to
achieve it honestly and with pride in
what you've done.
That isn't just a sermon, it's very
practical advice. Not only can you take
it to heart— you can take it to the bank.
Jim Rohn is a bestselling author, esteemed achievement expert, and internationally renowned trainer. One of the world's most widely quoted speakers, he has addressed over 5,000 groups and professional organizations throughout Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and virtually every major city in North America. His priceless insights have made him a key influence for an entire generation of personal development trainers — including Les Brown, Tom Hopkins, and Anthony Robbins.
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