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Building Organizational Truth, Trust and Integrity

March 18, 2016 by Dr. Jon Warner in Climate and Culture

Building Organizational Truth, Trust and Integrity

Although it rarely appears on a list of “must have” for leaders, “avoid lying” is perhaps one of the most foundational behaviors we expect of every one of them, no matter how junior or senior they may be. 

Lying, often even at a minor level, consumes time unnecessarily, destroys trust, eliminates respect, and will cause all leaders to get into “trouble” at some point.  In simple terms then, leaders are best-served to endeavor to be truthful at all times and be a “role model” for those around them.

But what does it mean to be “truthful” as a leader (especially as we know that it’s just as important to show good judgment and discretion as well)? Being truthful here means giving people the information they need to succeed with as little “spin” as possible. Put another way, it means sharing what you know as a leader that pertains to the task or project you are asking a person to do in the most “unvarnished” way possible. In so doing a leader inevitably improves not only an individual’s faith that they are getting “straight-talk” but it will start to have a positive impact on immediate team morale and build trust levels, because it serves to deter rumors; keeping everyone aware of issues and what is happening around them. 

Although there is no one “formula” for being more truthful with people, in specific terms all leaders can begin to be more direct and truthful in their communications by doing these three things:

  1. First, leaders can take a long and hard look at themselves and appraise honestly whether there is room for improvement (and where). For example, there may be scope to avoid being quite so roundabout in comments or evasive in questions and to be more concise and open in communications.
  1. Second, leaders can make an active effort to listen to employees more and to draw upon the information gathered to better inform what they then communicate (making sure that it provides truthful and open answers as much as possible). 
  1. Third, leaders can make a commitment to honesty and complete integrity and aim to “show-case” the behaviors for all those around them to do the same. This also means thanking people who share difficult truths and offer straight feedback (or who are willing to be more vulnerable) so that everyone knows that the policy of complete honestly is real and valued.

In the final analysis every leader’s situation is likely to be different and care needs to be taken to build the open and honest culture you want “brick by brick”. However, the greater the emphasis on truth telling, the quicker the leader’s reputation for credibility and integrity will grow and a culture of trust will start to emerge. In summary then:

  • Listen empathetically and discover what is important to others
  • Avoid absolute statements
  • Involve others in decisions and aim to make consensus or collaborative decisions
  • Look for similarities and areas of commonality
  • Avoid potential win-lose situations or strategies
  • Think “Our Issue or Problem”, not “My/Your Issue/Problem”

Given the above, leaders are therefore well-served to make it a personal motto to be honest and thereby increase his or her ability to lead people and the organization to greater success.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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  1. Jacqui HoganMarch 18, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    Trust is essential for a leader, as this article rightly says. But it is much more than being truthful. Leaders must learn to trust others, as well as being trustworthy. I wrote a recent blog about this on Linkedin

  2. Eli BrownApril 7, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    Another way trust is built is that a leader does what they say they are going to do as well as giving credit where credit is due. I believe that by doing those two as well as being honest and having integrity in all aspects of a leader’s life will do all the more to create a team that is built upon trust. These ways will also create loyalty among the team. Those relatively simply concepts are things that some leaders spend their entire career attempting to establish.

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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