Honesty – Does It Exist In Your Business?

The competitive fitness of any business is determined by the extent to which everyone leans into and contributes to its success. That requires commitment which can only be seeded through trust and engagement at all levels of a business. And this where honesty comes into play, but can honesty exist in a business environment?


Active Knowledge Question:

How would you score the strength of honesty in your business?


Let Me Be Honest With You

It’s a funny expression ‘let me be honest’ and is often used to preface a message that someone may not like to hear. But it also begs the question, ‘well when have you not been honest with me?’.

Honesty and trust go hand in hand. How can I trust someone if they are not able to be honest with me? When are they telling me the truth, and when are they not?

Enduring and strong relationships are built from the cornerstone of honesty. And usually, breakdown when honesty fails. We all struggle to be honest at times and often rationalise it as not wanting to hurt the other person. But there is a difference in being honest and being polite; most of us know where those boundaries lie.

If you want me to commit myself to you completely and without reservation, then honesty and trust must be the mutual foundation. Unfortunately, many relationships commence on a premise of guarding oneself and only giving as much as you need to, to gain what you may seek. In these relationships, honesty becomes very grey as it is distorted to gain an advantage.


Honesty In Business

Freeze frame and now turn your attention to business and the work environment. Does honesty have any place in business or is the expression ‘business is business’ the code for ‘don’t expect me to be honest’?

In businesses where a profit-first motive exists, self-interest, politics and short-termism are inevitable outcomes of that motive. A profit-first motive is the default setting of many businesses, and therefore, honesty becomes grey as self-interest is the norm.

But I would submit that leaders should exhibit, practice and insist on honesty as a non-negotiable character trait and value within their business.

Honesty underpins competitiveness and mitigates breaches of integrity and ethics, dishonesty and theft, and cover-ups. 

Honesty is a vital character and cultural trait within any business but is often taken with a grain of salt and therefore, must be actively practised and enforced. And in doing this, there can be no exceptions for rainmakers, favourites or senior persons as honesty requires an equal application to all.


How Honesty Supports Success

Honesty as a non-negotiable character trait fundamentally changes the culture of a business. The competitive strength that it can bring to a business should not be underestimated as the dynamics within a business shift to one of partnerships. Partnerships founded in purpose.

Here are two simple examples of how honesty supports performance:

1. Competitiveness

The competitiveness of a business rests in the combined talent and effort of all those who work within and with a business.

To be competitively fit as a business, to achieve its potential and beyond, you need everyone leaning into the business at all levels and giving their all. Most businesses do not come anywhere near being competitively fit.

But this level of engagement commences out of relationships of trust and trust depends on honesty. Honesty in all aspects of your relationship with the people who work within and with your business.

Are the leaders in your business really trusted?

2. Integrity

Breaches of integrity and ethics, theft, dishonesty and cover-ups are all events that occur across many businesses; many small events and some devastating to a business.

Where a dominant culture of honesty is present fear is removed, and openness can prevail. A fear which allows ‘wrongs’ to go unreported and problems hidden cannot survive where honesty is the dominant trait.

Is honesty reward or covered up in your business? 


Barriers To Honesty

There are barriers that commonly exist across many businesses that weaken honesty and will undermine any efforts to establish it as a dominant cultural trait.

Three key barriers are:

1. A lack of purpose

Profit is not a purpose within a business, it is an outcome. An outcome of a business competing well in meeting the needs of its customers. Purpose lies in those customer needs and lifting the value that is delivered to them every day.

In this context, purpose can be righteous and to which people are able to commit themselves and their talents and efforts. They can gain pride in a job well done through the value they deliver to customers and the impact it has on their lives.

The right purpose seeds the right motive which magnifies and compounds the competitive strength within a business. Whereas the wrong purpose -profiteering- disperses and neutralises the competitive strength of a business.

For what purpose does your business exist?

2. Fear of failure

Fear of failure is real in many businesses. Humiliation, financial and career penalties, exclusion from business communities are some of the outcomes that can befall someone who is seen to have failed.

If this fear is present, it seeds blame, lack of ownership and cover-ups. It seeds all the things that will only escalate the impact of any failure that may occur.

Failure is an expected outcome for any business that is seeking to innovate and grow, and it is important that the right attitude to failure is created within a business. Is it not better that someone who has made an error, or is struggling to deliver the expected outcomes on a project, be honest and seek support without undue fear?

What is the attitude to failure across your leadership team and business?  

3. Self-interest in leadership

If self-interest is permitted to exist at the leadership level of a business, it will then flow throughout the entire business.

Self-interest is the antithesis of success as if you seek to put yourself first others will recognise your actions, and their commitment to support you will be limited. Success lies in building that committed team, a team committed to a purpose, and that purpose is not their own direct personal gain.

If I seek to place myself first, then I tend to turn events to my individual advantage and honesty can be interpreted as what will provide me with a win. Remove self-interest and honesty is free. 

Are your leaders in their roles for what they can gain or what they can contribute to the business and everyone working in it?


Consider whether honesty is really present within your business or just a veneer that people would like to believe exists but know that it doesn’t. Be honest about its strength and take forthright action to make it a non-negotiable standard of behaviour, and watch your business change.


An entirely new level of performance.

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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel