By Lee Ellis
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. 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?
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. 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 as a whole.
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.
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.
Here are three things you can do to promote Article 1 of the Honor Code –
- Set the example by telling the truth even when it’s hard.
- Talk to others about why the truth is so critical to trust and organizational effectiveness.
- 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.
Download a copy of The Honor Code from Lee Ellis and Leading with Honor.
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