Professional Perspectives

Truth and Leadership

Truth and Leadership

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner

After watching the nightly news last week, I shook my head and wondered about the meaning of truth: what is it, how can it be manipulated or twisted, does it really count for much today, who are the people that really define it, and is it worth fighting for? And, by the way, what role do leaders have in speaking the truth—the unvarnished, unedited truth?

Since we were very young children, we were told that it is wrong, really wrong to tell a lie. It was one of the golden rules we learned in school and while attending our church, synagogue, mosque, or just praying in the wonderment of nature. We saw this play out on our neighborhood playgrounds and playing fields where anyone who didn’t tell the truth paid the price. We learned about the virtues of truthfulness when we studied U.S. presidents like Abraham Lincoln, or when we read the words Thomas Jefferson wrote in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident …” We watched Pinocchio’s nose grow longer and longer when he lied. When we were young, we came to accept the fact that telling the truth was a prerequisite for becoming a leader—because how could people believe in a leader who lies? So, what happened to us as we grew older?

Did we lose our grounding that taught us that whether in business, education, the arts, religion, medicine, government, or any other walk of life, truth counts? No, I really believe that the vast majority of people want to tell the truth and to trust their leaders. However, to believe in a leader, one must trust what the leader is saying. If the message doesn’t ring true, neither will the actions that follow, because true words are the underpinnings of just acts. Assertions and accusations, together with corroborating facts and evidence will ultimately be judged to be true or false—and if a leader’s words are proven false, he or she loses credibility that is very difficult if not impossible to regain. It may take time, but history has taught us that truth ultimately will prevail.

So why is it important to discuss this subject at this point in time? Simply stated, real leaders now more than ever need to stand up, speak the truth, and be heard. In doing so, leaders must not only speak truthfully, but also call out half-truths and outright lies. In doing so, do these leaders put themselves at some peril? Sure they do. But, then again, that is what leadership is all about.

By the way, real leaders exist at all levels in society—from the grade school, high school, and college student, to the entry-level employee, to the supervisor or senior manager, to the teacher or professor, to the doctor, lawyer, or other professional, to the stay-at-home mom or dad, to the unemployed person desperately trying to find work, to politicians and CEO’s, to the president of the United States … and the list goes on. Yes, everyone should embrace the truth—in this country and around the world.

Consider for a moment that if for one day, just for one day, everyone in the world decided to cast off political ideologies, religious and racial prejudice, and every other barrier that stands in the way of stating what is true—recognizing that what is true can be debated honestly and without rancor—and just spoke and wrote the truth as they see it. Wow, can you believe how this might change the world? Perhaps we could call it “Truth Day.” Is it a pipedream? Perhaps yes, but what a day it would be.  Who knows, the idea might even catch on for more than a day!

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