Does being honest make you a better boss?


Honesty is an often underrated but valuable trait of good leadership, however being honest all of the time can be a challenge.

Whether it is delivering bad news, exposing our own mistakes, or disagreeing with our boss on their strategy, speaking the truth can make us feel vulnerable – and that takes courage.

Being honest all of the time can make us feel vulnerable. The Leader's Digest.

Being honest all of the time can make us feel vulnerable. Image source: Andrew McAlpine.

But it is the courage to be honest which commands respect from our peers, trust from those we lead and grows our credibility as a leader.

As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.”

Recently I was talking to someone who believed his honesty was a bad thing.  He felt it was getting in the way of his career growth, and not conducive to ‘sealing the deal’ on important sales which were imperative in his position.

In my experience I have found the people who I admire and respect the most are those who are honest – I might not like what they say all the time, but more often than not, being honest clears the way for trust and progress.

However, I do believe honesty and tact should go hand in hand. And there are times when it is better to wait to be asked our opinion before ‘speaking our truth’.

Afters years of observation and experience, I have learned that those people who are ‘skilfully’ honest – whether it is to their boss, a customer, or a colleague; demonstrate certain abilities and talents in doing so.

These skills include:

Delivery – paying attention to the words we use, the language of our body, and the environment in which we deliver our message.

Discernment – using tact at all times, and thinking about the possible outcomes of our honest approach.

Empathy – putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. This helps us to come from a place of empathy and positive intent for our honesty. It also helps with our delivery.

Do you believe honesty is essential for great leadership?

Or, is being ‘too honest’ a bad thing?  I’d like to hear your thoughts on this one.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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