“You said you’d never lie to me.”
Of course not, reassures the mother, unsure what is the matter.
“Is Santa real?”
The mother, unprepared for this question so early, hesitates.
The little girl demands the truth through her sobs. Until the mother sadly and silently shakes her head.
“The Easter bunny? The tooth fairy?”
Again and again, the mother shakes her head, the last of her daughter’s belief in magic fading away. The magic may have ended, but she had reinforced her belief in integrity. Something that would hold her much longer than a belief in Santa Claus ever could.
Yes, I am that little girl. The one who challenged older kids that Santa must be real, because my parents wouldn’t lie to me. The one that demanded the truth, because knowing I could believe in them was more important than my need to believe in magic.
As leaders, our teams have to trust that we operate with integrity. Without it, our leadership is as real as Santa Claus.
Operating with integrity is about more than being honest. It is about being true in our interactions, thoughts and feelings.
However, the truth is subjective. Rarely do we have irrefutable facts to rely on in creating our truths. Instead, they are based on our individual lenses, formed by experience, values, and biases.
Our truth, about ourselves and others, is based on what we can see and perceive. What we think we know may be insufficient to establish a fully informed, and accurate truth, but it is our truth nonetheless.
A life built on integrity is not just about telling the truth as we see it, but a truth we can live with, and one those around us can live with as well.
The Truth You Can Live With
The truth can be painful if we let it. Blunt honesty, with no awareness of the potential impact, can have unintended results.
For example, that dress you’re thinking about? Without stopping to consider your reaction, I might just tell you it looks hideous.
However, if I take the time to consider how much of the truth is constructive and beneficial to you, I can approach my truth a little differently.
I can compliment what works, such as the flatering cut. Then I can suggest a specific change I think might work better for you, like a color that brings out your eyes.
Living with integrity means telling enough of the truth to feel comfortable we are being honest, not a carte blanche to say anything without consequence.
The Truth Others Can Live With
It is those potential negative outcomes which requires us to consider what portion of our truth others can live with. We must consider why he or she is asking for our input and the relative importance of the question to the person.
If this is a major purchase, such as a first-time home, the importance is much greater than if someone is asking whether you like a chili recipe. However, if that chili feedback could ruin a valued friendship, it becomes more important.
We must remember that just because we think it, does not make it fact.
Remember that hideous dress? If you feel like a million bucks in it, ultimately who the hell am I to say different? But if you ask me, the least I can do is figure out a way to share my thoughts without making you feel like crap.
Imagine for a moment that the dress is a new job opportunity, and as a leader, you are being asked for your input.
Suddenly, it becomes even more important that we share the truth we, and they, can live with – as someone’s future is in the balance.
Whatever concerns we have, they should be shared in a constructive way that provides the individual with additional thoughts to consider. Rather than potentially deter, that feedback can ensure the individual goes into the decision with an understanding of the challenges ahead.
Leading with integrity instills trust. Team members must know they can come to us for constructive input. Accountability lies with the individual, but they feel more confident taking calculated risks when their leaders are there to help broaden their perspective.
Living a Life of Integrity
As important as honesty is in how I live and work, I wish my parents had lied. I wish they had been prepared with a truth I could live with. One they could live with.
As a mother now myself, I have been preparing for years for the day when I get “the question.” Every year past age five has been a blessing – an additional season of magic to enjoy to its fullest with my son. It may seem like a lot to put on Santa, but from experience, I know he will lose some of his sense of possibilities when the big man is revealed.
In the meantime, I will continue to strive for a life of integrity, being as honest as I can live with, and as honest as he and those around me can live with as well. If that means a creative truth for Santa, the reward is well worth it.
What does leadership integrity look like to you? I would love if you could share your thoughts in the comments and keep the conversation going.
I would like to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas from my family to yours. I hope you are able to spend your holidays with friends or family and take a much deserved break before kicking off the new year.