“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”
— Mark Twain
“A liar needs a good memory.”
I read both of the above quotes and felt I really needed to stray from the norm and include them both. These quotes say essentially the same thing but from different perspectives. Those who tell lies need to remember the lies that they told, so they need a good memory. However, for those who only tell the truth, there is nothing additional to remember. The honest person will just restate the truth.
An example of honesty is my now 7-year old niece. Kids are incredible examples of leadership and they don’t even know it. My niece, like all normal kids, loves candy. My niece, also like normal kids, hates being told “no.” Several years ago, my niece asked her grandma for some candy, but my niece had already had plenty of sweets, so her grandma said “no.” I, being naïve, believed this was the end of the discussion. A couple hours later, though, I hear scampering in the hallway of the house and the swift shutting of the door next to mine. Naturally, I went to investigate. I went to my mom’s room and saw the bed’s skirt disturbed, so I looked under to find mounds of candy wrappers stashed away there. I go to confront my niece about this, and (again like normal kids) she immediately lied and said she didn’t know about the candy. I obviously didn’t believe her because no one else in the house needs to hide candy wrappers under a bed.
I use this example as an object lesson about our innate humanity that desires to cover our own tracks. I suppose you can consider it a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from impending punishment. However, just because it is natural does not make it right. My niece formed a habit of lying and believing everyone bought into her lies; it became natural to her. It was still wrong for her to do.
Sometimes as leaders we tend to hide our mistakes instead of fessing up to them – this is especially true for me. It is much more comfortable to pretend something didn’t happen or that it wasn’t us, but this is not helpful. As leaders, if we try to shift blame or if we try to lie our ways out of situations, we will get caught and the repercussions will be more severe if we delay them rather than confront them. To quote Jesus of Nazareth, “…every secret thing shall be brought to light” (Matt. 10:26).
When you make a mistake, be honest about it; we all make mistakes, and leadership is no different. To make matters worse, a leader’s mistakes are more amplified than a non-leader’s mistakes (take celebrities for example). Don’t wait for someone to find out and expose you. Honesty will help your people trust you even when you mess up.