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Building a Culture of Honesty

By November 23, 2019April 19th, 2022No Comments

Imagine if everyone in your organization acted with honesty. Now hold that thought.

In 2006 I was commanding a team of 36 combat engineers in one of the most violent and volatile areas of rural Afghanistan. Immediately prior to a major offensive battle, I gave orders to my soldiers, informing them that once the fight started there was very little I could do for them. We had no immediate resupply and I had no reserve force to offer in case additional troops were required. We only had limited intelligence regarding the size of the enemy positions to our front and to our flanks. Such conditions were not ideal. But I felt my soldiers needed to know these things so that they could steel themselves accordingly for what was to come. However, I also told them that they were some of the best-trained soldiers that Canada had ever trained for War. I told them I believed they had the intellect, skills, and resilience to win. I told them how deeply I cared about each of them. And I told them I would be right there with them, coordinating the team’s progress through the fight as best I could. I meant every word I said.

Trust is the number one determinant of team effectiveness.

That is a key tenet that the Gasparotto Group instills into its clients. Further, our experience shows that teams built on trust are more resilient, innovative, and loyal. But a culture of trust can only exist when team members are honest—honest with themselves and with one another. Acting with honesty is a deliberate choice—a choice that many avoid. Often, it means choosing courage over comfort.

Honesty demands that you avoid lying to yourself. You confront your own weaknesses, you acknowledge your feelings, and you accept what you cannot control. Don’t sabotage what should be your natural inclination toward increased self-awareness. If you can’t be honest with yourself, then you can’t be an authentic leader.

Honesty demands that you mean what you say and say what you mean. You avoid hiding behind conversational escape mechanisms such as sarcasm, extemporaneous jokes, and double-entendre. Instead, you approach difficult conversations knowing that truth is power. If a team member needs corrective counsel, you deliver it. If this seems harsh, it’s only because the truth can hurt. That’s ok. Because if you build a reputation whereby your words are trusted, then any compassion you show will be seen as genuine rather than a meaningless platitude. The sting of honesty is balanced by the sincerity of honesty. The truth can hurt but it can also heal. That’s growth.

Honesty demands that your words and deeds are aligned. Your espoused values and your values-in-use are one in the same. When everyone else is doing something wrong, you do it right—even if it means doing it alone. If you’re doing what’s right, then other like-minded people will follow. Those that choose not to follow perhaps don’t belong on your team. That’s what it means to lead by example.

Teams that are characterized by honesty will out-perform those that are not. Team members will know that disagreement does not equate to disloyalty. Bad ideas can be challenged without fear of reprisal. Innovative ideas can be offered without fear of ridicule. Feedback is candid and truthful. Or, put another way, feedback is useful and a valuable tool in professional and personal development.

Imagine, again, if everyone in your organization acted with honesty. It starts with you. Commit to acting with honesty—with yourself and with others. Be the change you want to see. Then, as your authenticity capital grows, so too will the trust you engender around you. And teams comprised of people who trust one another are teams that win.

Written by Anthony Robb

Gasparotto Group helps organizations create cultures that develop highly effective leaders and build strong, resilient teams.