why some leaders are dishonest

#58: Why some leaders are dishonest and how to counter it

Together with Ron Carucci, we will give you a couple of tips and tricks in order for you to become more truthful, as honesty in large or small organizations is a key element to becoming successful. We discuss why some leaders are dishonest and what prevents leaders from staying truthful and how you can benefit from being open and honest.

Who is Ron Carucci?

Ron Carucci is the managing partner of a small boutique consulting firm called Navalent. He has written a book about the purpose and being honest, has a blog, and has done a TED talk. But most of his days are spent helping organizations and leaders on their journeys of radical transformation towards what they find really important. Ron loves having different problems to solve every time he encounters one because that allows him to learn new things every time.

Ron’s pursuit of truth

At one point, he started wondering.
Under what conditions would a person tell the truth? Or under what conditions would an individual lie and serve their own interests?

There was no simple answer to be found, so he set out on a 15-year longitudinal study to find out if this behavior was predictable. Based on neuroscience and the data they got from over 3000 interviews, Ron found out that honesty has three aspects. 

  1. Being truthful/not lying

This one is very obvious and what most people think about when they are asked to be honest about something.

  1. Justice

This means doing and saying the right things.

  1. Purpose 

This means that you do not only have to do and say the right things but also that you have to do them for the right reasons.

All three of these aspects are necessary!

Why are some leaders not being honest?

People almost never lie and deceive just for the sake of it. When a leader isn’t being honest, that usually has at least one of the different reasons. When you are put under a lot of pressure, your body goes into self-defense mode. That’s why cheating or lying can sometimes be a mechanism to protect yourself. Sometimes you want to achieve results as fast as possible and being dishonest can be an easier path to achieve that. The path to dishonesty is also a gradual one. Every time a small mistake is made or a line is pushed to achieve a new goal, that can become the new normal. And what can start as a faceless lie without anyone getting hurt, can have a bad impact when continued.

But when we look deeper at the fundamental needs of human beings, it becomes clearer why people deceive and lie. Psychological studies show that the strongest need of a human being is to know that we matter. At the deepest level, we want to feel valued by others and know we matter. Unfortunately, when that need goes unmet, we are easily seduced by a counterfeit, which is looking like we matter. And the minute we start nourishing that need, it’s all about maintaining that illusion of significance. 

Tips to leading honestly

There has been a lot of research in the last 10 years about leading honestly and aligned with one’s values and the evidence is overwhelming: the organizations that are genuinely committed and have a true purpose that is embodied into the organization, far outperform their competitors.

So whatever you do in your organization, even when shareholders might push you against a wall and seemingly don’t give you a lot of choices, you need to reflect the values you want in your vision and in your terms. The way to do that more easily is to already start building the right muscles: the muscles of transparency, the muscles of justice and fairness and accountability. You need to contribute to building a cohesive organization where the entire workforce is aligned around the same shared purpose. 

This also allows you to become more powerful instead of powerless. Many leaders can’t handle the estrangement and the rejection of other people, because of that same need of wanting to feel valued. But in those moments, you need to remember that your goal is not to make people like you but to do the right thing for the organization. And that often means making decisions that don’t go the way other people might want them to go. That means having to say no when necessary.

In order to do that, you need to create the right environment. There is one conversation that Ron told me everyone should have when starting a collaboration together. You need to tell people that there are going to be times when you are going to piss them off. They need to understand that that is their job. But if that disappointment ever turns into an insult, offensiveness or feeling dismissed or demeaned, that is not a part of your job. And then people should come to you and tell that to your face. The opposite counts as well!

One thing you can do right now is the following: examine the last 10 or so times you haven’t been truthful. You will see a pattern because dishonesty is not random. And ask yourself the following questions. Why do these moments bring me dishonesty? Why does lying about it make me feel safer? Is that comfort real? 

I hope you learned a couple of new things about being honest and about becoming more powerful instead of powerless.

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