On Leadership and Telling the Truth: Three Foundational Ways to Avoid Lying

Crossed Fingers

Unlike the torturous battles our leaders faced in the Vietnam POW camps, most of the battles we face as leaders aren’t physically painful.

But the emotional and mental battles to get results may seem equally challenging.

Leading Under Duress 

So, do you want to know the guiding force that kept my comrades and me unified while the enemy was trying to systematically divide and disable us?

It was the bond brought by our efforts to live up to the Military Code of Conduct, six articles articulated on a single page. Though most of us had memorized this code in our early training, we couldn’t have imagined what a critical role it would later play in our daily lives.

In my recent book, Leading with Honor, I shared that when we faced the cruelty of isolation, hunger, torture, and constant threats, this code was a powerful reminder to choose the harder right and serve with honor.

Ironically, now living in freedom, we see a growing stream of headlines and stories about dis-honorable behavior from every occupation and industry.

How can you fight to survive and win in your domain while honorably influencing others to lead and work in a spirit of unity?

Leadership Honor Code

To address this concern, our team at Leading with Honor developed an Honor Code that all leaders can use as a foundation for honorable leadership. It consists of seven articles that will help guide and unify your team or organization.

On the surface they may sound elementary and even easy, but if you are honest, you know how difficult it can be to live up to these simple principles.

Honor Code – Article 1

Think about the impact of leaders adopting this code and then courageously living these commitments.

Let’s take an in-depth look at Article 1:

Tell the truth even when it’s difficult. Avoid duplicity and deceitful behavior.

In its basic form, truth is foundational for science and law; without absolute truth in these disciplines, we couldn’t maintain or achieve more as a society. In less structured parts of society such as relationships, politics, business development, and others, we know that the absence of truth can lead to chaos and the decline of freedom and justice.

Clearly, duplicity, guile and deceit chip away at our freedom, as individuals, organizations, and as a society.

Most people grow as adults wanting to be known as honorable and trustworthy, even though ironically we naturally learn to lie as young “innocent” children without being taught.

After leading and managing people for more than 40 years, I can assure you that lying or misrepresenting the facts is always right beneath the surface. Usually it’s fear or pride that makes it raise its ugly head.

The Lie Generators

Having an awareness of this short list of common “lie generators” will help us guard our character.

  • Fear of Negative Consequences. Consider the many headlines of politicians, businessmen, religious leaders, doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, coaches, pro athletes, media personalities and literally every role in society that lie when caught in a transgression.
  • Fear of Not Looking Good or Good Enough. Insecure people will lie to enhance or protect their image. There has been a lot of talk about this issue in the media recently, but the tendency to stretch or shade the truth is a commonly used protective strategy. The root issue is pride.
  • Fear of Losing. Using lies to promote oneself and smear others has become an accepted tactic in many areas of our society—especially politics. Where is the honor?
  • Ideological Spin. This problem uses a half-truth or lie to advance a cause. Our communist captors boldly declared that, “Truth is that which most benefits the party.” And on that basis, they routinely tortured POWs to sign false propaganda lies.

I’m sure you can think of many other situations where truth is trampled for expediency, but truth is resilient and eventually we reap what we sow.

Regardless of the daily opportunities to misrepresent the truth or lie, we must all remain vigilant and choose the truth to get the best results for us, our teams and our society.

Living The Honor Code

Here are three things you can do to promote Article 1 of the Honor Code –  

  1. Set the example by telling the truth even when it’s hard.
  2. Talk to others about why the truth is so critical to trust and organizational effectiveness.
  3. Bring out the truth to expose those who are telling lies.

What are your thoughts? What has been your experience? Please share them in this forum.

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Lee Ellis

Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media
He is a leadership consultant in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
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His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

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Asking the Right Quetions

On Leadership and Really Asking the Right Questions

Asking the Right Quetions

We have all met them, worked for them, maybe are them; the leader who does not want to be questioned.

In many cases, that dislike has caused them to purposefully surround themselves with a minion of executives who won’t question, who will just follow.

These are the proverbial “Yes Men.”

There is no greater cancer, no bigger risk than a leader unchallenged. Every leader needs someone who is willing to ask the right and often tough questions.

Two Special Voices

There are two voices that I find of particular benefit for a leader. The contrarian and the person with beginner’s mind.

The Contrarian’s Voice

The contrarian is the one who is quick to point out why a certain action or strategy is destined for failure. This is often that annoying person who is constantly telling all those willing to listen, why it won’t work.

Yet he or she plays an important role as a needed check and balance.

They are going to be searching for the flaw in the thinking or the fallacy in the argument. Many times in my career that voice, that pain in the tush contrarian, is the one person who stopped me from making a terrible mistake.

The Beginner’s Voice

The second voice of value is that of the beginner’s mind. This stems from a quote by a famous Zen Master, Shunryu Suzuki. Suzuki said this:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities but in the expert’s there are few.”

I have been in the situation many times of being fearful of asking the “stupid question.” Who cherishes looking foolish, especially to a leader who may look down or frown upon such an inquiry? Very few id the answer.

But a beginner’s mind is free of habit and clear of the normal paradigms.They’re that set of fresh eyes that can help a leader or an organization recognize a previously unseen fork in the road.

At times, these are the simplest of questions:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • Have we ever thought about doing something different?
  • Has this worked in the past?

It is just putting a different perspective or thought pattern against an action plan, that can monumentally shift both the direction and the outcome.

On Leadership and Personal Ego

I will admit, that early in my career, I did not like to be questioned. It was an affront to my ego. It made me feel defensive and at times vulnerable.

Over time and after a few scraped knees, I learned to invite questions and to leverage the collective intelligence of the team.

In fact, I went out of my way to look for smart people who thought differently than me.

These would be people who challenged me. Together, we made each other better.

The Value of the Right Questions

Every leader needs someone to ask the right questions. In many ways, I make my living doing just that. I come into an organization and start asking questions from both the perspective of the contrarian and from beginner’s mind. I ask questions in 360 degrees.

I have found that the solution to most challenges is found closest to its source, and without asking, the answer may never have appeared. A progressive leader needs to invite questioning and encourage debate. They should cherish the contrarian and celebrate the “stupid question.”

In my experience, the one thing that every leader hates is unwelcome surprises. Sometimes the right question is all that is needed to prevent those from occurring.

Please contrarians lend me your thoughts and those with beginner’s mind, share your thinking. I feel this is an important conversation and will respond to each and every comment below.

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Elliot Begoun

Elliot Begoun is the Principal Consultant of The Intertwine Group, LLC.
He works with companies to Deliver Tools that Enable Leadership Growth
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Online Learning Versus Classroom

5 Ways Online Learning Can Radically Improve Your Leadership Abilities

Online Learning Versus Classroom

In today’s on-demand economy, sharpening your company’s competitive edge is the only way to avoid blending in with the noise.

And few tactics can set leaders and their talent apart better than online learning.

On Tailored Solutions

Not only is e-learning a more affordable (and often free) way to keep yourself and your team on the bleeding edge of technology, leaders can also tailor each learning experience to the individual, maximizing everyone’s time.

After all, who wants to sit through long, generic, and often irrelevant in-person workshops?

The flexibility in scheduling is also a huge advantage for any busy leader. When Bloomberg exec Susan Kish wanted to learn to code, she didn’t have time to commute to a classroom and sit through a three-hour lecture on a designated night each week.

Instead, she signed up for online lessons through One Month and went at her own pace. Within months, the self-proclaimed “digital immigrant” got the hang of it, allowing her to engage in more meaningful conversations with the company’s tech team.

On Learning, Coaching, and Feedback

Online learning also gives you access to private one-on-one feedback with coaches and leadership specialists around the world you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to meet.

You probably can’t call up Richard Branson to glean his latest thoughts on leadership. You can, however, attend one of his virtual seminars.

Investing in e-learning isn’t just a luxury in the business world; it’s the defining factor that will separate your leadership abilities from the pack.

5 Ways Online Learning Can Improve Your Leadership Abilities

Here are five overarching areas where leaders stand to benefit from online learning and how you can leverage online programs to become a more well-rounded and capable leader:

1. Personal Productivity and Time Management

These skills are essential to becoming an effective team leader, manager, or executive. Uncovering new productivity and time management hacks and developing your own competitive skills is a great way to increase your value to your company.

2. Team Dynamics and Leadership

These consist of project management, communication, and leadership skills, which allow you to become a more integrated team member and leader.

I’ve worked with a number of leadership coaches — from Suzannah Scully to Jeff Riddle. And each time, the deep dive into understanding my own habits, listening skills, interpersonal dynamics, and communication patterns helps me expand my knowledge of entrepreneurship, creativity, clear thinking, and more.

Each session solidifies my abilities as a leader and a business-minded person.

Learning alongside your team members can also boost morale, strengthen internal bonds, and re-engage people in their work — equipping them with new competitive skills and introducing departments to innovative ways to collaborate.

3. Self-mastery and Self-awareness

  • Do you know yourself?
  • Do you understand how people work?
  • Do you recognize what motivates them?
  • Do you know how they learn?

The best place to begin unearthing these answers is within yourself.

Psychological assessments like Myers-Briggs, Tony Robbins’ leadership coaching, or even meditation can be great baselines for beginning to understand your triggers and peculiarities.

I use Sally Hogshead’s standard Fascination Advantage Assessment, which assesses your ability to fascinate others and your core leadership characteristics to get in touch with your strengths and weaknesses.

4. Writing and Speaking

The best leaders are also expert communicators. It’s no coincidence that the leaders we love to admire think clearly, speak eloquently, and write with precision.

If you can’t communicate well with your team members, how can they keep a pulse on company progress?

Learning how to write well, improve your storytelling abilities, and become a better public speaker are all great skills for business leaders to master.

Maybe you’re a strong writer but want to become a better storyteller or thought leader. You can take online writing classes and seminars, find a small writing group online to practice with, or work closely with an editor to improve your skills.

5. Technical Growth and Development

Great project managers are well-versed in a number of subjects.

These include:

  • Data science
  • Design
  • Analytics
  • User understanding
  • Team leadership
  • And more

When Meshal Lakhani, founder at Future Investor, struggles to move forward with a product or mission, he often turns to online classes to build up his self-confidence and bolster his skill set.

Through these courses, he’s learned how to delegate properly, developed best practices for building a business, and absorbed valuable product management lessons.

It’s hard to lead when you don’t have certain skills,” he says. “The best leaders are always learning.”

As the pace of technology adoption quickens, the average company life cycle is also shortening. According to Mathias Jakobsen, learning designer at Hyper Island, “Our skills are getting outdated all the time.”

Leading Now and In the Futre

By crafting your own curriculum, you can sample lessons from several companies and glean insights from some of the world’s top business professionals to help you stay ahead of the curve.

Regardless of where it happens, learning isn’t optional in today’s hypercompetitive business world; it’s an essential part of staying relevant in your industry. And taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge available online is the most efficient, cost-effective way to safeguard your company’s future.

So, are you looking into modern and flexible ways to increase knowledge and skills using online learning? How well is your organization evaluating your current methods for learning and looking forward to better solutions? How could online learning impact your personal leadership effectiveness with the people you lead? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Sarah Kathleen Peck

Sarah Peck is the director of communications at One Month
She is a longtime writer, speaker, and athlete
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How to Bring Your “A Game” to C-Suite Leadership


Whether it’s a close-knit group of trusted peers or an experienced consulting firm helping you to navigate choppy business waters, your company’s success hinges on your leadership skills.

How you solicit feedback, make decisions, set goals, and communicate to your team has a profound impact on the future of your company.

Leading By Example

Great leaders know how to balance pragmatism with inspiration. They always lead by example, and they know how to set fair, concrete expectations for employees.

If your company is facing rough seas ahead, it’s time to bust out your best leadership skills. Here’s how to bring your A game to any trying leadership scenario.

Bringing Your “A Game” to C-Suite Leadership

See the Details, But Don’t Forget the Big Picture

As your company’s leader, your job is to get your arms around the facts to accurately assess the challenges at hand. To get a true understanding of a situation, you need a kind of double vision.

With one eye focused on the big picture and the other eye on small details, you can make smarter decisions.

How do you get this double vision? By communicating up and down the chain of command.

The late Steve Jobs is a perfect example. No detail was too trivial for him, and Jobs often visited the Apple store nearest his home in Palo Alto, California. To be a great leader — like Jobs — you’ll need to maintain top-down and bottom-up perspectives and become adept at switching from a ground view to a 10,000-foot view.

Make Informed Decisions With Confidence

You will never have 100 percent of the facts, and time is a finite commodity. Instead of hunting down every fact and detail, seek to gather enough information to make an informed decision. Great leaders know their mandate is not to hold position, but to forge ahead in new, sensible directions.

So consult with your colleagues, gather the available facts, and be decisive about next steps.

Just look at Harlan Sands, the University of Louisville’s first CFO/COO. Five months into his new role, Sands introduced a new organizational structure affecting more than 600 employees. An expert decision maker, Sands executes plans with timeliness and confidence.

To enhance university operations, he realigned the teams and responsibilities with specific goals in mind: efficiency, analytics, and accountability.

Be Transparent to Win Hearts and Minds

Great leaders never ask for your trust; they earn it. They freely explain to others why they believe what they do. Always be sure to tell your team why you’re endorsing a particular course of action and the outcome you expect.

Provide them with the knowledge behind your decision-making process, and they’ll be more willing to support your course of action.

William (Chip) Wann is the COO of Mspark and a master at using a straightforward approach and transparency to solve problems.

He believes that numbers are the ultimate form of transparency; they can’t lie. 

Chip uses the clarity that numbers provide to hunt down missing information, make well-informed decisions, and keep employees up-to-date every step of the way.

Inspire Your Team With Realism

Just like you’ll never have all of the facts, you’ll also never find a risk-free decision. Our job as leaders is to be honest about the risks and then create a strategy to mitigate them. Acknowledge your challenges, but make it clear that you intend to prevail.

Own up to the risks, and your team will reflect this realistic yet optimistic attitude.

Nathan Pruet is the embodiment of a realistic leader. He’s a leader in the risk management department of a Fortune 500 financial institution and a pro at helping others understand the realities and challenges of large-scale change.

Nathan has a gift for defusing stressful situations, and it’s his realistic perspective that often calms the troubled waters around him.

Keep an Ear to the Ground

Always ask your team if you’re missing anything, and seek their input. This lays the groundwork for honest feedback and equips them to make your plan a reality.

When they provide feedback, they’re investing in your plan. Feedback shows mutual respect, and this level of engagement can bring your plans to life.

How would you like to be at the helm of a company tarnished by a major accounting scandal? 

Jay Grinney, CEO of HealthSouth, helped the company with the largest turnaround in recent years. How did he do it? Jay started by having lunch with his employees to hear their concerns and ask for their feedback about organizational challenges.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

If your company could benefit from hiring a consulting firm, look for one that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. In most cases, executives already know what challenges they face.

Identifying and articulating those challenges is only part of the job.

Consultants demonstrate their true value by rolling up their sleeves and developing an action plan, which will become your company’s road map to better days.

It’s not enough to point out the problems; the challenge lies in tackling them. Lead by running to the problem first, then articulate a solution and bring your team together. Let’s flex those leadership muscles and get to work.

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Carey Rome

Carey Rome is CEO of Cypress Resources
He has 15+ years of experience helping business executives reach their goals
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