FWD Edition 1:
Responsible leaders are honest


Honesty as a tenet of responsible leadership

Being honest is one of our five principles for responsible leadership.

Admitting to difficult truths as a leader is challenging but if you are willing to have difficult conversations and admit to your own mistakes this will open up the opportunity for more productive and positive conversations with others.

If you stand up for your beliefs you are better able to cultivate a culture of candour for others. It is candour, rather than brutal honesty, that counts though.

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Building your propensity for honesty

One of the ways that you can build a greater propensity for honesty, both individually and within your team, is by taking the process of reflection seriously and reflecting often.

Reflecting as an individual is vital for getting perspective on events, facts, thoughts and your feelings. It is also useful for recording phenomena as they unfold. Encouraging your team to reflect and foster collective reflection is important for group and team learning.

The best way to make reflection real is to practice journaling regularly.

You can download our guide to journaling to remind yourself of how to journal properly and how to introduce the practice of journaling to your team.

Faculty perspective: Margaret Heffernan

I recall interviewing candidates for a very senior position. One of my fellow interviewers was an academic psychologist who insisted on asking a random question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be? I have to confess the banality of the question made me wonder about all those years of studying psychology, and most of the answers we got told us nothing. But one did: the candidate giggled and then asked, as though talking to herself, “Gee, I wonder if I should tell the truth?” The comment seemed involuntary, like an engrained habit: to think first what was wanted, rather than what is true. She didn’t get the job; we wouldn’t trust her and couldn’t imagine anyone else would either. 

I was once criticised for being too open and honest with my employees. Working in America, they told me I didn’t fully appreciate how dangerous the truth could be; angry employees might be armed. I felt there was greater risk in secrecy, gossip, rumour and fear. Lying to people demeans them; telling the truth honours them. And you. 

“We must be willing to embrace the awkward to develop the capability to have open and honest conversations about divisive or personal issues that are so important — or risk having these issues impact our employees and our business in negative ways.”
— Bill Boulding - Dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business
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Fellows’ experiences with honesty

"I have become much more consensual and reflective. I advocate openly to do ‘the right thing’ and therefore have become more challenging about behaviours and ways of doing things. I am more confident in facing up to and making difficult decisions...I listen for emotions and have greater emotional honesty with my team." – Simon Chaplin, Cohort 2015.

“This opportunity to reflect has been vital and is one I will continue to do: within my team we now have “balcony sessions” which are unstructured sessions to consider what we are seeing and observing about our business and our people. The debate is open, honest and challenging and I notice that we are a stronger team when we allow ourselves to do this. This approach builds on our Discussion Group sessions where we have had lively and considered conversations since the start of the programme.” - Tamsin Lishman, Cohort 2016.

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“My view of responsible leadership has become more deeply informed. I’ve been challenged to care about things that I had never previously considered (or had chosen to be too busy to confront). I’ve found myself in some fascinating conversations with colleagues that have been honest and meaningful...At the same time, I am aware of contradictions and frustrations I didn’t previously see. However, overall, I feel like a better person for it and, I think, colleagues are noticing and it’s influencing their own view of responsible leadership as well.” - Michael Cockroft, Cohort 2016.

“I believe, increasingly, that overt self-awareness - authenticity and honesty are not indicative of weakness and should not detract from personal authority. Linked to my previous experimentation, I wonder now how formal 360 feedback in the organisation can further encourage self-awareness as a strength, paired with a culture that embraces routine and informal feedback.” – Jo Maitland, Cohort 2017.


Fellowship insights

Thoughts on the 2018 applications and honesty…

Stakeholder survey…

Priorities meetings - what are the stories of honesty there?

Related Discovery Session

See our upcoming Discovery Sessions here. Specifically related to this topic, the Discovery Session on Institutional Trust: “Is it time for a banker’s oath?” explores the role of trust, honesty and transparency in banking.

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22nd November

8:30 - 10:00am

Speaker: Chris Jolly

Is it time for a banker’s oath?

Expert in trust, Professor Veronica Hope-Hailey, tells us trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback. Large organisations and banks in particular continue to be castigated for actual or perceived breaches of trust. Chris Jolly is Chairman of CivilisedBank and has held senior roles at a number of major banks and institutions, including MD at Merrill Lynch, GM of Commerzbank’s London operations and CEO of Societe Generale’s London branch before moving to help develop CivilisedBank. Chris will talk to us about CivilisedBank’s ‘banker’s oath’ and his views on building and rebuilding trust. He’s keen for a discussion with diverse views and welcomes debate.

The Bankers' Oath:

“I will do my utmost to behave in a manner that prioritises the needs of customers. It is my first duty to provide an exemplary service to my customers and to exhibit a duty of care above and beyond that required by law.

I will apply myself to ensuring that the work I perform engenders the responsible creation of value. It is my duty to conduct my business in a manner that impacts positively on the well being of people both inside and outside my enterprise. 

I will confront profligacy and impropriety wherever I encounter it, understanding that the conduct of bankers can have dramatic consequences for society.

I will remember that I am a member of society, with special obligations to the financial security and wellbeing of my customers, their families and the communities in which they reside. By upholding this oath, may I experience the wellbeing that comes from serving customers well. May I always act to preserve the finest traditions of my profession and may I long experience the satisfaction that comes from supporting the needs of society.”