Honesty: The First Step of Leadership Transformation

Key Axiom: Admit that you have weakness and need consistent brutal feedback to truly see, listen, and understand reality.  

Action Steps to Honesty:

  1. Become willing to change
  2. Let go of pride and seek humility
  3. Admit the problems, seek help and establish trusted advisors to help you see, listen to, and understand reality

Nothing begins without an individual’s will to make it begin.  To begin your transformation into an axiom leader you must honestly assess whether you are willing to change.  You may recognize the need to change, but still may be unwilling.  If that is the case, you can start your transformation by at least acknowledging you are unwilling to change.

People say leaders finally become willing to change when the pain of their current situation becomes worse than the pain of change.  If you are unwilling to change, you may want to step back and look at the cost to you and your organization of not changing.  Are you struggling to keep great employees?  Is morale low?  Does your executive team not trust each other?  Are people confused as to the strategy and direction of the company?  Are profits well below industry average?  Are there contradictions between what you and your leadership team say and what you do?  A hard and brutally honest assessment of these and other similar questions sometimes help motivate leaders to find a small desire to make the necessary changes in their leadership.  As you progress through the steps of this transformation and see positive results your desire to change will grow.   Desire is the indicator of willingness.  Nurture that desire to change.

Once you have even a small desire and become willing to change, the next step is to let go of all pride and seek humility.  Honesty and pride cannot coexist.  Pride distorts the truth about things as they really are, as they have been, and as they will be.  That distortion of reality must be removed.  It is a major obstacle to change.  Pride is the single the largest obstacle for a leader to truly lead. 

Most people think of pride as self-centeredness or conceit.  Those are elements of pride but not the core.  The core of pride is enmity.  Enmity is hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.  Basically, pride is competitive in nature.  Are you competitive with the other leaders in your organization?  Do you feel you have to drop names, training, degrees, pedigree or whatever to ensure everyone knows how great you are?  This is an outward symptom of pride. 

Pride must be overcome in order to truly be an axiom leader.  The counter to pride is humility; humble enough to truly “listen” and “see” the truth.  Humility is not weakness.  You can still be confident.  Remember that Jim Collins explained that Level 5 leaders have a unique combination of humility + professional will.   Recall from my earlier posts that organizational alignment is the alignment of the individual will with an organization’s will.  Pride basically puts the individuals will in competition to the organization’s will.  Hence, pride needs to be eliminated from the organization.  Do not eliminate confidence, not determination to overcome challenges, not relentless pursuit of improvement, just the element of competition within your organization and teams. If you can see others as they really are, people just like you with intelligence you can learn from, you are on your way to becoming an axiom leader.

When referring to the key axiom of honesty, I’m also referring to being honest with yourself to truly acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.  Be willing to seek honest feedback from those your trust to be sure you see everything.   What are you the best in the world at?  Where are you just okay?  Where are you not very good?  Are you in a role or a seat in your organization where you just don’t excel?  A good way to find your talents is to ponder what naturally comes easy for you and where you have received consistent, unprompted and sincere feedback of your talents.   One way to show and maintain honesty about improvement is to work with a leadership coach.  Get outside help, someone who will tell you the truth, not just be a yes man, and train you on universal leadership principles and truths you can apply to your organization and teams. 

You cannot fool yourself.  You know your weakness and the problems in your executive team and organization.  You can pretend all is fine and business is good, but deep inside you know you it isn’t.  Denying this truth is sometimes so hard that when you finally admit there is a problem you feel great relief.  This is unleashing the power of real honesty to create lasting change, which is why it is the first step in the AA program.  Once you reach that point of vulnerable honesty, you then allow an opening for hope to enter.  When you choose to admit the problems you have as a leader, become willing to seek support and help, you give hope a place to grow.  That prepares you for the next step of transformation, Hope, which I will discuss in my next post. 

Additional Study and Understanding:

  1. Level 5 Leaders chapter in Jim Collin’s book Good to Great
  2. Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (see chapter on vulnerable honesty)

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