Honest Leadership = Authentic Leadership

We have a huge trust deficit in our country, or perhaps in society at large. Labour does not trust business; business does not trust labour; business and labour does not trust government; many employees do not trust management; and frankly far too many managers do not trust their employees; many of our compatriots do not trust the President of our country; and there is probably a strong case for the President not trusting his people; most would attest that they simply do not trust politicians. Should I go on?

The unnecessary outcome is that decisions are questioned, surreptitiously or even blatantly; buy-in to decisions are therefore slow and much needed action is delayed, and when implemented, it is not necessarily with the best attitude and even full grasp of the original message, because why will someone listen effectively when there is little or no trust. There are more consequences to distrust, but as a leader carefully consider the dire implications of just this alone.

“I put it to you” that while distrust may result from several reasons, one clear cause is the perception or reality of dishonesty, in whatever guise, shape or form. Truly great leaders are authentic – their behaviour predominantly matches their words; their motives generally are also in sync with their actions; their actions reflect their values.

To be authentic therefore, you need to be absolutely honest in what you say and do, even at the risk of not being liked or being popular.

But, is your/our environment playing its part in giving leaders the space, freedom to be honest and authentic? Can leaders in South Africa be absolutely honest in their views, even when it differs from that of government? Can employees in organisations be absolutely honest about their feelings and views, even when it differs from management?

Does our environment bind leaders or free them up to be real? Does our national culture, which always stems from the top, allow for true honesty, in every respect? So many current newsworthy stories hinge on the principle of honesty.

Let’s be honest, many political, corporate and other leaders struggle to be authentic; they are ‘boxed’ in, saying what is politically correct rather than what they really believe; following agenda’s, rules, procedures, plans that are forced upon them rather than what they believe will truly lead to success.

Hence, it is reasonable to question whether or not we still have a lot of good leaders left in South Africa, and perhaps globally. History and our own experience seem to counter this though, because it reflects that inside a difficult environment great leaders emerge. South Africa is a very difficult place to lead in and should therefore by default be breeding great leaders.

But perhaps, under the surface we are growing great leaders who are just waiting to be unleashed, or they are trying to break through to the surface of the formal ‘leadership playing field’, only to find that the ‘game’ or environment does not allow for them to be honest and authentic.

Are the rules on the political and corporate leadership playing field fair, honest, free? Ask yourself, do you believe you can honestly confront your black colleague about lack of performance without racist allegations being directed at you openly or covertly? Or, can you honestly say that your white manager’s views about you are not clouded by race – that you are judged on merit and not the colour of your skin?

Appointing someone to a position, when you know in your heart of hearts that he can’t do the job, is not honest. Accepting a job simply because it will give you status in your community, yet you know you cannot confidently do it is not honest. Not appointing someone to a position because of race or gender yet using another excuse is not honest. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves these things are happening. Why?

How many times have you wanted to say something in a meeting but did not because of fear or concern of what others may say or think, or what the boss may do to you? When this happened you were not being honest and therefore authentic and chose to be manipulated by fear.

But, on the other side of the spectrum, if you are the manager, when someone in your team has the courage to be honest with them self by asking a difficult question or expressing a controversial view or concern, will you treat that person honestly and not victimise him/her?

Of course one must learn to be honest in a diplomatic or caring way. But, some go so far down the road of diplomacy or so called caring that they forget to be honest and therefore authentic.

Honesty first and diplomacy second! When you are honest and not diplomatic many will respect you and few will like you. If you learn to be excellent with both, many will respect you and many will like you, but never everyone because leaders have to do the difficult and unpopular things.

Being honest is a principle and value decision. To become diplomatically honest is an acquired skill and can therefore be developed over time.

Are we having honest conversations in South Africa about sensitive issues? For example, are we as a society honest as far as our agenda to eradicate poverty is concerned, or is the real agenda materialism, the selfish acquisition of wealth? Is the employment equity agenda an honest one – in other words, are we addressing real issues with real and honest facts and in the best possible way, or is the agenda of some a black and white issue only?

Are we really honest about transformation when, 20 years into our democracy most of the CEO’s in the top 100 listed companies are still white males? I can go on and on.

You see, being honest in every respect makes one authentic – honest with yourself; honest with others; honest about what is happening around you; honest in how you address the reality; honest in your agenda. If we therefore want an authentic environment it must be honest! Then the ground will be fertile to grow leaders that are real and that will rise to the occasion to achieve the extraordinary.

When one is in an environment where one feels one cannot speak up to share one’s honest views, authenticity will be under threat. Where authenticity is under threat great and authentic leaders will struggle even more to emerge.

I challenge you to have a bold conversation about honesty with your team or those within your influence; about how you can create an honest environment where people report honestly; express their views honestly; do performance appraisals honestly; prepare their budgets honestly; set targets honestly – growth, financial and other targets.

I call for “HONEST LEADERSHIP”, which means “AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP”! In other words I call for an honest environment – where there are no double standards; where we can confront one another with confidence about pertinent issues to break down barriers to growth and prosperity.




Louis has been fanatically endeavoring to uncover universal leadership principles and models for longer than most of us have been alive. He is an author, leadership expert, father, grandfather, and the Co-Founder of Leadership Platform.

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022
Email: info@leadershipplatform.com

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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