Honest Leadership

Truly great leaders are authentic. To be authentic though, you need to be absolutely honest, even at the risk of not being liked.

But, what role should the environment play in giving a leader the space, freedom to be honest and authentic? Can leaders in SA be absolutely honest in their views, even when it differs from that of the government? Can the leaders in your organisation 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 culture allow for true honesty, in every respect? Do we really value it at all cost?

I recently debated some of these issues with an interesting person, which had me thinking really hard and honest about the topic.

She commented that leaders she spoke to struggled to be authentic; they are ‘boxed’ in, saying what is politically correct rather than what they really believe; following agenda’s that are forced upon them rather than what they believe will truly lead to success .

She also questioned whether or not we still have a lot of good leaders left in SA. I explained that my research shows that inside a difficult environment great leaders emerge. South Africa is a very difficult place to lead and is therefore by default breeding great leaders.

But, as I incorporated her views into mine I thought that 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 who they have been molded to become – 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 himself 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 thing.

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?

Is our constitution an honest one when it provides for a certain level of discrimination against a specific sector of the working population? Can organisations honestly perform against sector charters when the facts about available skills indicate otherwise? Are we really honest about transformation when, 15 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 with your team about honesty; 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.

This article appeared in the:

The Workplace

Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on adriaan@leadershipplatform.com for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




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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