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Jun 19
Honesty: The Lonely Word

magnifying-glass-1607160_960_720.jpgAuthor: Georgina Barrick 

I’ve always been passionate about truth, honesty and transparency.

So, listening to the Zondo Commission findings, watching all of the layers being peeled back and realising just how much we’ve been lied to, is sickening. From outright lies to the avoidance of the truth, we’re seeing the whole spectrum. 
But, I believe that truth is important – and will prevail. And, that it’s better to be honest from the outset…
Watching the recent coverage of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, I was struck by the veterans’ stories. Alongside a recounting of what they had done on that fateful day, many spoke, with searing honesty, about the fear that they had felt and the horrors that they had witnessed.
Some mentioned that they were doing so to highlight the brutality of war, in the hope that future generations would learn a lesson and work to avoid conflict.
For me, their heart-breaking honesty was refreshing.

Today, we live in a world of untruths, fake news and hidden agendas. 
We seem to be bogged down in lies and corruption. Honesty is a rare commodity. A ‘lonely word’ as Billy Joel lamented. ‘Truth’ is whatever I (or social media) says it is. Images are photoshopped to hide the ugly truth. Politicians lie to serve their own best interests – and lie some more when the Zondo Commission finds them out. Corporations misstate results or use ‘spin’ to sell you a dream. Steinhoff, Enron, Thanos, Madoff – and, more recently, Tongaat Hulett – come to mind. 
Facts are immaterial, truth is inconvenient and honesty has suffered. 
And, we’re living with the consequences.

Without honesty, we have no trust, no transparency and no accountability.
It’s hard to build lives and companies without it. It’s impossible to deliver on promises made.
The ‘Silent Generation’ D-Day veterans would tell you that honesty is ‘the right thing to do’.
Billy Joel would say that it’s ‘mostly what I need from you’.
So, how do we cut through the ‘fake news’ noise and live (and work) with honesty and truth?

Practice (Radical) Honesty
It’s not always easy to be honest. Sometimes, it’s simpler (or it works in our favour) to keep quiet – like when a waitress forgets to charge us for a meal. But, truth matters – and it starts with the small things. 
Honesty builds transparency and trust. Make honesty a personal habit and foster a culture of honesty in your team. Reward transparency and come down hard on untruth. The road to transparency isn’t always straightforward and can be lined with criticism – but if you stay strong and have the courage to tell the truth, trust will follow.

Temper honesty with kindness. The bald truth can hurt, so how you deliver feedback is important. Be mindful of your delivery.

Own Your Mistakes
Tiger Brands learned this lesson the hard way. After CEO Lawrence MacDougall denied responsibility for the 2018 listeriosis outbreak, claiming that there was no direct link between any deaths and Enterprise Food products, the company lost R5.7 billion in value, spent R377 million on a product recall and is now facing a class action suit.
Take accountability for your actions and those of your employees. Remember that you’re accountable to your employees and that they rely on you to be honest – especially when you’ve made a mistake.
If you’ve messed up, get out in front and own the mistake. Apologise and make things right. 
Encourage your staff to own their mistakes by reframing mistakes as learning experiences. 

Also, stand up for what you know is right. If you witness improper behaviour, don’t keep quiet – even if speaking the truth puts you in the firing line. Remember that bad things happen when good people do nothing. 

Facts, Facts, Facts
Base your decisions on hard fact – not feelings. 
Decisions based on fact leave no room for misunderstanding and can be tracked and easily reviewed by all. So, stick to the facts – and encourage your staff to do the same.

Being honest isn’t always easy, popular or welcomed. 
But, at the end of the day, it’s all we really have to offer. Work hard to be a wo(man) of your word. You and the world around you will be better for it. 
Speak truth always. Stay strong.

Georgina Barrick, MD of Cassel&Co and The Working Earth, all divisions of ADvTECH Resourcing (Pty) Ltd. Georgina has over 25 years of recruitment and executive search experience.


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