Good leadership depends on telling the truth

Tim Haggerty

In my blog series at, I cover topical issues for leaders. Lately, that’s included what I consider the 10 commandments of good leadership.

Commandment No. 2 — tell the truth, even when it’s difficult. There was something ironic about this particular blog.

For years I was enamored with a quote usually attributed to Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its boots on.” It sounds like something Twain might have written, but that would be a lie.

Credit must go to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, an English Particular Baptist preacher who attributed the saying to an old proverb in a sermon he delivered in 1855. Spurgeon remains influential to this day among Christians of various denominations, among whom he is known as the “prince of preachers.”

Regardless of who came up with the words, the quote rings true, especially when it comes to the bad, incorrect, misleading and downright untrue things employees utter about their employers. And this assumes employers are doing everything correctly. I’ve written several times about the costs when others lie about you or your company.

What’s far worse, however, is when the leader is the one spreading misleading or false information.

Let’s face it. We’ve all been affected when shady information is foisted upon us in the workplace. Some of us also have had our careers limited by innuendos.

It’s the ability of a leader to remain truthful that drives an organization either forward or backward. A true servant leader constantly and consciously strives to tell the truth no matter how much difficulty or pain it brings to the leader or his or her employees.

Sure. We’ve all seen people — make that poor leaders — who’ve seemingly succeeded in the absence of truth. We’ve also witnessed the downfall of so many leaders who wouldn’t or couldn’t tell the truth.

It appears as if in some circles — politics in particular — people are rewarded for deceit. At the end of the day, however, what have they really gained? What they’ve gained is a slow erosion of trust within the organization or within their circle of trusted allies.

Leaders who fall into the trap of fake it until you make it find themselves in incredibly dangerous situations. As in, I’m the boss and I’m supposed to have the answers. People known to lie erode trust in leadership. Frankly, they’re idiots because they don’t see the damage they cause.

As me sainted grandmother used to say, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” Of course, she also said stuff like “Don’t look up a dead horse’s arse.” They’re not related, although they’re both pretty pithy.

Here’s yet another quote I can state with assurance came from Mark Twain. “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”