How Frank or Deceptive Should Leaders Be?

HBS professor Jim Heskett sums up comments to this month's column. Given the possibility that a naturally pessimistic (or perhaps more realistic) CEO might adversely affect everything from market reactions to employee morale, HBS Working Knowledge readers' comments are full of advice for honesty, candor, and an optimistic bias.
by Jim Heskett

Summing Up

How should context affect leaders' candor and transparency? Candor, transparency, and optimism generally trump dishonesty, deception, and pessimism as characteristics of good leaders. But is this true at all times? Conclusions about each of these characteristics may not be applicable to all organizations in all cultures, in times of success as opposed to decline, when talking about the past as opposed to the future, or in dealing with employees of all generations. As many respondents to this month's column pointed out, the effectiveness of candor, transparency, and optimism as leadership behaviors may depend on the "context" in which they are found. As a result, one might conclude as Mike Leahy did that "… I am fascinated with the range of our readers' responses to something I thought was rather straightforward."

Harsh Honmode's comment reflected this train of thought. He said, "for a leader to be transparent he should have had inculcated an environment of TRUST beforehand, which means he cannot suddenly become candid about his apprehensions." Dora Bonnet commented, the role of leaders is "knowing what to say and where to say it." Sharon Richmond pointed out that, "Because 'trust' is elusive … Leaders must always be mindful of their context and audience, and communicate accordingly." And Phil Clark reminded us that "Transparency without context is dangerous …. Leaders place the current facts (good or bad) into (the) context of the future." Gerald Nanninga commented that "It is impossible to fix a problem if one does not properly acknowledge the full extent of the problem. Problem resolution, however, can take a more optimistic tone. The biggest problem occurs if we get these reversed."

Comments were replete with advice to leaders regarding honesty, candor, and an optimistic bias. Zack Allen advised, "Honesty is the best policy … (but it) does not mean being a nay-sayer or a wet blanket." Peter Bowie suggested that "A leader needs to be honest in assessment, have clarity around a plan to move forward and communicate his confidence in the plan …." Terri Bonar-Stewart suggested to leaders that they, "Lay out the facts, ask for employees' help (they have been waiting for you to ask), use humor (you can't laugh and feel stress at the same time)." Shruthi Sridharan emphasized, "keep communication channels open for feedback to assuage any employee anxieties; be cautious in messaging about (the) here and now; stay positive about future plans!"

Heather Neary raised questions for us to ponder. For example, are Gen Yers and new media affecting responses to these questions? Do leaders face special challenges in an age of, in her words, "Twitter Congressmen and Senators, Facebook, DIGG and other social media in undoing all the mistrust that has surfaced as a result of all of the previous 'spins' placed on misinformation"? Do these trends present special challenges or pressing needs for greater honesty, candor, and transparency in the future? In discussing management issues, we often conclude that "it all depends." Does that kind of thinking apply here? What do you think?

Original Article

Several leadership concepts, such as "transparency," are in vogue these days. Perhaps we should add "self-fulfilling prophecies" to the list. They have become particularly relevant as comparisons of the current economic situation to the Great Depression have given way to increasing talk of the potential today for not just a recession but a depression. They raise questions about the appropriate posture for leaders under conditions in which they themselves may harbor pessimism about the future. And they call out for more attention to ways in which economics intersects with psychology, the theme of a new book by Nobel-prize winner in economics George Akerlof and economist Robert Sheeler of "irrational exuberance" fame.

These authors cite the importance of what John Maynard Keynes once referred to as "animal spirits" in dealing with economic issues. These help explain, in the words of the authors, "how the economy really works" as opposed to the way that classical economics views it. They cite the importance of economists understanding the impact of such things as "confidence, fairness, corruption and antisocial behavior, money illusion (in part an undervaluation, particularly by younger adults, of the importance of compound interest, inflation, and long-term value of money in one's planning), and … political-economic stories (the way people communicate confidence that can affect entire economies and their performance)" on assumptions they make about economic behavior.

It's the first and last of these that may be of greatest importance at the moment to the extent that they lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. They may also have implications for leadership behavior. This line of thinking leads to the conclusion that the more stories we tell about depression, the more likely we are to have one. If one subscribes to this line of thinking, avoiding the use of certain terms like "depression" may make sense.

How frank should leaders be? Jim Collins emphasizes the importance of organizations facing "the brutal facts" about causes of mediocre performance. On the other hand, there may be reasons why good leaders have to have an optimistic bias. As one CEO put it in a meeting last week, "I can't lead from a position of pessimism." Even though CEOs may harbor doubts about the future performance of their organization, how candid can they be in expressing those doubts? The ability of a naturally pessimistic (or perhaps more realistic) CEO to adversely affect everything from market reactions to employee morale and motivation may be substantial, thereby creating the wrong kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. That is why we might ask whether, when President Franklin Roosevelt said at a particularly dark point during the Great Depression that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," did he really believe that or was he trying to exercise good leadership by creating a positive prophecy by means of some comforting words? We applaud candor while sometimes penalizing those who pursue it. Exhibit A is President Barack Obama, whose candor (assuming he really believes what he is saying about the potential length and depth of the current downturn) has been rewarded with further deterioration in a number of indicators, not the least of which is the stock market.

What's the fine line that leaders have to walk between transparency and candor on the one hand and the need to create self-fulfilling prophecies and confidence through stories on the other? To what degree do leaders owe it to others in their organizations to mask personal negative feelings in an effort to inspire good performance? How, if at all, should leaders employ self-fulfilling prophecies? When does such effort become unproductively deceptive? How frank or deceptive should leaders be? What do you think?

To read more:

George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller, Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009)

Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don't (New York: HarperCollins, 2001)

    • Gregg Masters
    • Chief bottle washer,
    Exquisite question, and timely too!

    From the POV that "believing is seeing" (vs. its conventional opposite) one need reflect on the power of thoughts, belief systems and the "story" one infers from "data" (what's happening), to manifest in physical form; it is perhaps advisable to monitor and potentially guard one's truth from "disclosure" (particularly if it is "negative").

    If in fact, our authentic belief says, we're heading for a depression, given the potential to breath life into a self fulfilling prophecy, one might be better off "deceiving" others by not be truthful or authentic.

    At least, on the surface, this seems to be the context and primary trade off. Yet, 70% of communication is non verbal, so if one smears optimism over an otherwise truthful pessimistic world view, what is the net message?

    I say worse than zero ( or neutral). You will be incongruent, and a progenitor of cognitive dissonance albeit potentially on a subconscious level, and won't meet the veracity "smell test".

    Be who you are, but only authentically so. Make sure your conclusion (ie, "truth with a lower case "t") is based on reality and not story per se. Then give us the unvarnished version. We'll decide how to interpret it.

    Authenticity did not get us into this mess; fear based deception, and agenda driven control messages did.

    Thanks for the topic! Food for thought...
    • Harsh Honmode
    • Head- Marketing, Saint-Gobain Weber
    I feel that for a leader to be transparent he should have had inculcated an environment of TRUST beforehand. Which means that he cannot suddenly decide to become candid about his apprehensions.

    People take well even a pessimistic opinion from a leader and trust him to lead them in a proper direction to collectively take them out of it. It's a feeling of "we are all in it together" that keeps the moral up and actually can help tide over the crisis. The leader who is able to make his people feel genuinely involved and be a part of the solution can get extraordinary work done through ordinary people.

    In conclusion I feel that the question is not whether the leader should be frank and candid about his apprehensions but whether he is capable of doing so. That he should be candid is given .... How to do it and how to prepare the environment around is the key!
    • Adnan Younis Lodhi
    • Section Officer, Ministry of Commerce, Pakistan
    Let it be clear from the start that Leader should never be deceptive. Probably "contained" is the right word. I think sometimes Leaders have to contain the information and personal feelings for the betterment of organization.

    Transparency is much emphasized and expected leadership trait in academic literature and corporate world today. To a great extent, transparency is desirable and an honest way for leaders to act. But we have to settle a question that withholding information based on personal observation / projection is breach of transparency or not? In my view, It is not.

    Animal spirits rule in most of economic agents else we would have no idea about depression. In my view, the non-rational side of economic decision making is under studies and under-discussed.

    Talk of the pessimism breeds more pessimism and hence vicious cycle. A repeated scenario-sketching of increased unemployment and stalled economic growth is likely to hurt consumer spending in anticipation thus fulfilling prophecy by default.

    I totally agree that leaders have to have an optimistic bias because they are fighting an ongoing war without full knowledge of the results so they must keep their troops on the move and motivated. Leaders have to hide their personal negative feelings to avoid a negative multiplier effect.

    The tricky question is about employing self-fulfilling prophesies. It is very difficult to sustain it in current information abound environment. And how and when it will start affecting productivity negatively just no body can be sure of it.
    • Ryan Schon
    • Strategy
    Free markets have always and will always go in cycles, like the people who influence their value. Knowledge @ Wharton had a great article yesterday talking about the extremes of the cycle - greed and fear, and also quoting Jim Collins's reference to the Stockdale paradox. I don't think there's anything wrong with leaders acknowledging that we are in a fear cycle right now but that capitalism and entrepreneurship will prevail.
    • Mark Michael
    • Senior Executive Advisor, Control Risks
    Is there an important distinction between a leader who minimizes doubts and one whose positive statements may lack a reasonable basis? The latter situation may be experienced within the organization as confused leadership (in the best case) or dishonesty (at the other extreme).

    In public companies, there may be a wealth of data to compare management's disclosure to the financial community (e.g., in press releases, conference calls and SEC filings) and contemporaneous internal discussions with employees. Stock market analysts expect management to provide accurate guidance regarding future revenues and earnings, including disclosure of factors that might adversely impact such future results.

    Internally, there may be different levels of information and analysis disseminated. A feasible operating plan may be presented to the Board. Senior management should understand the risks, challenges and opportunities to a greater level of detail. Individual contributors should have the big picture and a clear commitment to results that are directly or indirectly impacted by their efforts.

    There are practical nuances to maintaining credibility and trust with the various stakeholder groups. Demonstrating a grasp of reality would appear to be quite valuable, even when, or perhaps especially when challenges are significant.
    • Anonymous
    Harsh Honmode - your comments are spot on in mho.
    • CJ Cullinane
    Leaders should be honest although that is not always the case. I believe the problem is that many leaders do not know what the truth is or may interpret it to fit their agenda. Most leaders (big and small) have an agenda. The way they present the 'truth' or interpret the truth is tailored to that agenda, but now it is not the real truth.

    Having said this I believe a great leader gives both sides of the story. They give the information as close to reality as possible. They do not put a "spin" on it as our present politicians do or use scare tactics. They can then say what they believe a solution is but only after the facts are presented. Truth first!

    • Noel Lee Chun, M.D.
    • Board of Directors, BCHD
    Testimony to how little has changed in the human condition.

    I believe this question was first addressed in Plato's Republic. The seminal treatise on political philosophy.
    • JP Guilbault
    • Vice President, Intuit
    In a previous comment a contributor writes, "most leaders (big and small) have an agenda. The way they present the 'truth' or interpret the truth is tailored to that agenda, but now it is not the real truth". Unfortunately this appears to be true more often than not. If we are looking for the impact of transparency we have an opportunity to look more at what is done versus what is said. Watching the action of people and organizations can tell us more about the motives and beliefs of individuals.

    Employees need to know what their Leaders think, but more importantly they want to know that they have a plan (without an agenda) and accordingly the actions match the "words" of that plan. In these times, it comes down to instilling confidence, keeping teams relaxed, and watching the personalities within the team. More than anything else, what works best... talk to your customers, talk to your employees. Reality lives in what they perceive and what they are experiencing. We can lead them through it by working with them to create small and compounding successes.
    • DRb
    • manager
    I prefer the "we're all in the same boat so let's brainstorm and find the best solution". I don't like it when the president of the company imposes his will; both myself as the manager and my team feel the sting of top-down command as he is not part of the team, and not really working with us...
    • Sarab Sokhey
    • Director, Motorola
    A good manager should be

    Discreet - yes;
    Deceptive - never.

    • Tom Dolembo
    • consultant, Disaster Planning Associates
    I bought my first manufacturing company, a niche construction and utility transmission builder, in 1980. It was race to bottom, oil field sales collapsed, my loan was 17% flat, and federal contracts bridged the gap to 1984. I remember. Our little savior was an Apple IIE, which with Edwards Demming's "Out of the Crisis" (please reread this) gave us process-changing facts, every day (after iterating 7 hours on production data). We survived, but the little computer prevailed. What I had experienced was the profound and violent change in how I knew the truth about what I did.

    Many CEO's don't know the facts, are not trained to get them, and don't even have fact knowledge as part of their job description. It's all spin. MBA programs spend a lot of time on gaming, positioning, and case decision making. They spend very little time on what to do when you just don't know, when you have to rethink every day, get facts, use them. Right now we just don't know.

    I suggest that the discovery process is collaborative, as DRB suggests. The idea of a supreme leader, CEO or President, having knowledge others don't is vacuous. CEOs have to learn how to understand how to get the truth, use the facts, work with associates to get them, and remove blame and negativity. FDR knew cyclicality, he knew he would never walk again, and he wasn't awed by terror. This did condition how he saw facts. At Harvard, a very well known professor suggested to us that the job of the CEO had become, "Improve my perks, increase my power, build my resume." That was 1970.

    When we recover from this crisis, and we will, and that comes from a lifelong pessimist, we will look back and see that like my Little Apple IIE, we missed the single most important factor in our survival. What will restore us isn't attitude or posturing, it is a profound and basic change in how we see facts, do things, buy, think, and value. I suggest we start (at HBS?) by learning how to think about that process, not at how we game a postured solution. Our associates are smart, they know truth when they hear it and see it. The CEO of the future, which will be incredibly prosperous for a world of people, will be judged by that level of understanding, not by what her flacks spin.
    • Terri Bonar-Stewart
    • CEO, Just The Basics, Inc.
    When the President frowns, employees worry.

    Lay out the facts, ask for employees' help (they have been waiting for you to ask), use humor (you can't laugh and feel stress at the same time), and keep a smile on your face.

    Small business owners and entrepreneurs keep smiling because they know the dangers of a frown.
    • John Kelley
    • Mgr.
    In my supervisor and manager positions, I've always told my employees to tell me the truth. None of us can make decisions, solve problems or plan for the future if we don't have the facts. But, if they tell the truth, you MUST NOT punish them for it.

    I have always hoped for the same from my bosses, but many of them are not willing/capable of telling the truth. And they prefer to not be told the truth. Look at the "business speak" where people use the words "opportunity" and "challenge" instead of problem. This may seem like semantics, but way too many opportunities and challenges are never addressed (after all, they are not problems). And the people who bring bad news to the boss frequently get punished.

    My hope in the current economic environment would be for the leaders to admit that things are tough, "but together we will work our way through this." They can tell us the bad news, and use their MOTIVATIONAL skills to get us up to facing the challenge.
    • Zach Allen
    • President, Pan EurAsian Enterprises
    As someone who has been a consultant to business for most of the time since graduating from HBS in 1967, and who has worked with numerous CEOS, I have a fairly clear-cut idea as to the answer.

    1. Honesty is the best policy.

    2. Honesty does not mean being a nay-sayer or a wet blanket. Managers who have a negative view or basically defensive mind set don't often get to be CEOs.

    3. An effective CEO is one with a vision for the organization that he (or she) can communicate.

    I also believe that the vision needs to be far more than the next quarterly EPS statement. I would suggest that we are where we are in the economy today partly because our collective CEOs lost a constructive view of where they wanted to take their companies. They were focused on their bonuses, not the long term development of an economic enterprise that was creating real value.

    One of my mentors, John F. Childs, used to define the basic rationale for any business entity as being one that creates economic output that has more value than the economic input. That is, it contributes more to society more than it takes from society.

    We seem to have lost sight of that.
    • Anonymous
    Overall, I think that the United States has regulated itself into a corner. Top leaders can talk to employees but also may suffer the ramifications of doing so. Our "free market" system is being choked by taking away all the tools successful leaders need to "get the job done".

    On one hand, having the charisma, drive, and foresight of situations should be enough to be successful in most situations. However, when workers rights advocates, unions, and tree-hugging human resource personnel pull the rug out from under top management by letting them know what they shouldn't do - basically undermining progress toward a bigger picture that most people won't see develop for years - all forward momentum is lost thereby cutting communication ties/relationships between employees and management.
    • Jason Cooksey
    • General Counsel, ActionCOACH
    It's the game of business. Take for example a Coach taking a team to the Superbowl. The odds are against the Team to win. Does the Coach acknowledge the betting odds and say "Do your best team, but we are expected to lose so just get out there and have some fun" OR does the Coach inspire, empower and lead his Team to focus on winning the game?

    A Coach who puts a bet on the other team winning could not possibly "BE" the leader in order to "DO" what is necessary to coach the Team to "HAVE" a victory. BE x DO = HAVE. This is the universal formula for success.
    • JLB
    • public relations
    Part of the reason why this even needs to be discussed is that so many executives understand that knowledge can indeed be power. So they withhold information, intentionally or not. And yes, the good ones don't frown as much in public as they might, for fear of harming the stock price and morale.
    • Peter Bowie
    "Upsetting" employees, investors, customers etc has been used as an excuse for the past several years for not telling the truth and, in large measure, got us into the mess we are all in today... A leader needs to be honest in assessment, have clarity around a plan to move forward and communicate his confidence in the plan ... otherwise someone else should take on the job.
    • Anonymous
    This subject is critical, especially when leaders' words are going to alter share prices, and eventually the leaders' own future.

    When leaders are really committed to achieve success for all stakeholders on short and long term, preserving their integrity at all times, positive bias and authentic speech can be part of the solution, but are we going to believe these leaders exist!?
    • Dick Harrison
    • Principal, BrainPosse
    The concept of relative or situational honesty is pernicious. A leader owes the group she or he leads complete honesty, whether that group is a country or a company. Deceiving the group to protect it from its perceived inability to act rationally on truthful information does the group a disservice. Leaders who start with small deceptions all too often end with "I am not a crook."
    • Anonymous
    The answer lies within the question. All leaders, all levels should respect and follow the same basic code: Always Frank never Deceptive.

    Lies/Spin/Deception, as we have recently seen, only leads to bigger problems in the long term.
    • Gerald Nanninga
    • VP, Retail Ventures, Inc.
    It is impossible to fix a problem if one does not properly acknowledge the full extent of the problem. If we pretend the problem is less severe than it really is, we will not take sufficient effort to fix it. Therefore, problem definition must be brutally honest.

    Problem resolution, however, can take a more optimistic tone. If we do not believe in the solution, we will not put in place the vigor necessary to overcome the problem. Some optimism in our ability to overcome helps make the work more productive.

    The biggest problem occurs if we get these reversed--we underestimate the extent of the problem and underestimate our capacity to overcome.
    • Wilson Kimutai
    • Consultant, Quadrix
    Our leaders should always be truthful. A pile of lies will not stand the test of time. Take for example the current recession, it is all about perception. Fundamentally nothing as changed in terms of trading practices and service delivery, most people and institutions has opted to invest less and spend less as a result value creation has been reduced. If all the parties concerned perceive our leaders to be deceptive, then we shall be in this recession for a long haul. we should work on the restoring sanity in the world truthfully.
    • Leonard N
    • Thru Other Eyes
    A true leader needs to always be honest. Once proven to have not been honest, a leader's integrity begins to be suspect. A true leader also needs to have a true belief in his/her ability to fulfill whatever mission lay before the company, organization or nation. So it is not an either-or situation. One can be honest about difficult realities while at the same time instilling the confidence that the group can overcome whatever challenge it faces. That is the challenge for a true leader in times of trouble.
    • Puneet Kalia
    • Project Manager, KBR UK Ltd
    Leaders cannot deceive - Leaders need to be frank - lesson 101. Leaders of teams need to motivate their teams and building a team may be a bit analogous to designing and then making a vehicle to deliver the end result.

    The greatest motivator I have seen is when your team knows that they are a part of a "winning team"; they will forgo monetary gain for achieving that success.

    I would like to refer Sun Zu - Art of war, where I was able to identify with the following. There are circumstances whereby presenting your team with a huge challenge (sometime to the point of sheer desperation) you can bring out unbelievable human endeavours and achieve great results. These situations need to be prepared and managed properly by the leader and will need to be shared fully by the leader.

    Preparation of these challenges will contain the element of surprise. You will need to burn the rule book, and you will need a team that trusts each other to go out of bounds and share their efforts in an attempt to achieve the "impossible". This attempt should best be based on a real event or to solve a real problem and the leader's frankness will be one of the essential prerequisites to success.
    • Jacoline Loewen
    • Partner, Loewen & Partners
    A leader knows that the human capital in the company have emotions and a great leader is able to access those emotions. As Collins says, face the brutal facts. Indeed.

    The good leader articulates the brutal facts but also seeks a game plan to move from the current situation. Leaders need to demonstrate that they are not frozen in the headlights, that there is a way forward that may work. While being transparent, there needs to be the next steps.
    With Mr. Obama's candid comments - his approach is appreciated as the American people (and the world) do want to know that their leader understands the crisis. I believe the stock market is indicating its confidence in the action plan, not in the transparency of the communication.
    • Nitin Bartakke
    • Manager, Zensar
    A leader has to be open and frank and never be deceptive.

    One who cannot lead by example cannot be a leader in itself. Deception is not a good example of how to lead a team or orgnization or an entity, small or big.

    Diplomacy, yes, should be part of his way of functioning, but the thin line between diplomacy & deceptiveness should be watched.
    • PVLN RAO
    • Operations, ICFAI
    Who is responsible for the present depression? Leaders or selfish policy makers? Unless to certain extent the leader is honest to execute the policies of the organization not at the cost of poor employees this will continue. Is he having a free hand to do so? What is the role of a leader, and how many appreciate the good suggestions given by leaders to save the organization? For the present crises we have to blame ourselves and leaders are not at the receiving end. When Managements put the gun on the shoulders of a leader and fire at employees, stakeholders, what a leader can do?
    • Mridula Dwivedi
    • Asst Professor, IIMT Gurgaon
    We talk about having a public face and private face and decide what is appropriate for work. I feel sometimes the lines become so blurred that we risk becoming simply 'double faced'. Is that what happened to many of the 'leaders?' They sound 'double faced' saying one thing and meaning or doing something else?
    • Anonymous
    A transparent leader will not only get unstinted support from his team but also get them to give their best in testing times. A frank leader wins the respect and admiration of his team and at the same time prepares his team for a worse scenario. The acceptance of recession in current times helps the common man come to grips with the state of being and take pro active measures. I therefore vote for frankness all the way.
    • Scott W. Ventrella
    • Managing Director, Center for Corporate Ethics
    Under no circumstances should a leader attempt to deceive or mislead members of their organization. That said, it is incumbent upon leadership to present the facts but not dwell on the negative (or draw premature conclusions no matter how dire the situation). Fueled by vision, hope and optimism, great leaders over time have energized and inspired people to see beyond "hopeless" situations -- without compromising their own integrity.
    • Anonymous
    Leadership has been described as the "process of social influence in which one person is able to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task". A definition more inclusive of followers comes from Alan Keith of Genentech who said, "Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen."
    • Phil Clark
    • Clark & Associates
    Transparency without context is dangerous. Real leaders have the ability to balance reality with inspiration. The late Paul Harvey used to say, "That's the rest of the story." Leaders place the current facts (good or bad) into context of the future. Greg Masters started this discussion mentioning the importance of body language. That is what the emotional part of the brain reads. If what we see does not match the words ... we always believe the body language. In tough times, we are looking for people to believe and trust in. People willing to lead us to success. Unfortunately, the news world dwells on doom and gloom ... it sells better. This distorts and prevents the messages of hope that are so dearly needed in a crisis. Leaders step up and tell "the rest of the story."
    • Sharon L Richmond
    • President, Founder, Richmond & Associates
    As always, Jim, you pose compelling questions. My simple answer is this: Leaders must always be mindful of their context and audience, and communicate accordingly.

    Why? Because "truth" is elusive. It's perspective-dependent. What seems like "truth" in one context may sound entirely false in another. While it is true that banks don't hold enough cash to cover all customer deposits, do we really want bank heads to tell us this? No. We do not want to prompt the proverbial "run on the bank."

    Emotions are 'contagious,' and leaders emotions perhaps disproportionately. In a fire, do you want a leader who shows the fear and panic they may legitimately feel? Or one who projects calm, helping others focus and act toward the group's survival?

    One danger is that we want leaders to share their exuberance, but not their despair. The two are equally dangerous. Both can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. But we like the upside of one, and not the downside of the other.

    What should the wise leader do? Help people see their way clear to right action, based on such facts as exist, such interpretations which reflect wise judgment and likely future influences, and a combination of empathy and pragmatism.

    I doubt the practice of transparency helps a leader do this as much as the exercise of moral courage, and being willing to hold themselves accountable for the impact of their actions and words. Leaders wield disproportionate influence based on their visibility and their positions.

    So perhaps that old adage is wisest, for leaders and for us all: we should behave, in any situation, such that we would feel proud if we knew our mothers were watching us, and knew everything that we know.
    • G. Harris
    Practically speaking, a lot depends on what others in the organization value. I place a high value on transparency, authenticity, and frankness. However, this is usually the minority opinion in most organizational cultures. A premium is usually placed on going along to get along. Regardless, real leadership is honest, proactive, and confident. However, too often, the majority of persons within the organization cannot handle the truth (to paraphrase Jack Nicholas's character in "A Few Good Men"). Hence, leaders need to combine truth telling with a mastery of relationship systems. Since people rarely can absorb the truth, for many psychological and emotional reasons, it is critical to work on bringing others along, especially in challenging times. Honing and mastering soft skills while not watering down the truth is essential.
    • Arnold
    • Middle Manager
    As in many probative questions of the day, the answer lies in the context. From the standpoint of the financial markets, frank talk on the part of our President has been criticized. On the other hand, the President gets high marks from the public for his candor. Thus, another way to ask the question is "is it more important to be vague to satisfy financial markets, or blunt to satisfy the public at large?"

    I would argue that trust that the President gains from the public based on his candor can then be transferred back to the markets as the public sees the President investing himself in them. In turn, that re-directed confidence could slowly start to revive the markets over time.
    • Mike Leahy
    • Associate Professor of Health Sciences, Linfield College
    I am fascinated with the range of our readers' responses to something I thought was rather straightforward.
    After graduating from HBS in 1974, I have spent the last 34 years in health care and public health. When things do not work well in health care, it is often because we do not have the courage to be honest, truthful, and transparent with our colleagues, patients, and community. I have recently moved from the Health Care CEO world to teaching. I am observing that current students will simply not trust leaders who are cagey, overly cautious, and opaque. Today we need a congruent, visionary, and truthful version of "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
    • Josh
    • Manager
    An additional thought, triggered by Mike Leahy. The current crop of Gen Y'ers demand open and honest transactions. It is probable that other generations did so as well, but add the internet, the level of connection at all times, the demise of the major newspapers and TV/radio networks and you have a group of people who will not accept something because an "authority" has said so. Too many authorities have lied, deceived, and spun their story for their own gain to trust them. The truth is what is required - even if it depresses Wall Street.
    • Ulysses U. Pardey, MBA
    • Managing Director, Am-Tech,S.A., Panama, Rep. of Panama
    Trying to frame what CEO-leadership is for out there, today and beyond. Is CEO-leadership - businesswise - an industry per se?

    They are professional "product/service-providers" with "prices or compensations", there are company needs to meet - markets - there are customers - i.e. boards - paying for the "product/service" and there is competition. If yes, then is this industry a customer-driven one? What does generate the customer's need for a CEO-leader?

    What kind of customers are CEO-leaders' customers? What does the customer expect from its CEO-leader, whatever-it-takes solutions? This could indicate how much room for maneuvers.

    Does the CEO-leader's customer choose the fine line and the yardstick? Or is it an "up to you" wild card in order to get the mission accomplished? Let us keep in mind that these missions usually involve lots of money, quite a key vital factor. Is the CEO-leader's report to his/her customer different to the report presented to other people? Is this a customer's requirement?

    Do people, employees and society in general, know the real mission assigned to a CEO-leader by his/her customer, i.e. the board? Therefore what to compare a CEO-leader's performance to when assessing his/her success?

    Consequently, are there people imposing - would this be a bias? - a definition of what that customer's specific need(s) and its corresponding company management-solution portrayal, the CEO-leader's doing, ought to be? Are there people questioning - legitimately? - such a definition and its corresponding management-solution, the CEO-leader? Or are there people questioning (legitimately?) and suggesting (a bias)? Are there CEO-leaders questioning, reforming their industry? Or they have only room for following their market?
    What does it feel like to be a real company CEO-leader?

    You are as good as the people you lead. Generally speaking, it could be highly useful for the CEO-leaders to know what works better with the employees in order to favor his/her mission success considering the kind of people he/she is dealing with. It reads as if the CEO-leader must be able to understand not only the industry and the business the company is in, what his/her mission is all about but also who is his/her customer, its need(s), and last but not least his/her employees' dynamics in the workplace.

    Is CEO-leadership a one-man show? In some societies, a simple, gentle and visible symbol is enough for people to follow the specific instruction(s), and in other societies a more substantially tangible means might be a must. This could suggest that your high-quality professional leadership style might not make you a leader in every culture, everywhere.

    Should CEO-leadership become a comprehensive, custom-made or rather enriched "product/service" according to the dynamics of the people in the workplace(s) across a company, an industry, and cultures? Is a comprehensive CEO-leader the best workable "product/service provider" for the 21rst century in a comprehensive-globalization market? Is this comprehensive CEO-leadership a team of people with one voice or a one-man show? What could this imply for a global and diversified business and its relationship with the societies it interacts with?

    Hopefully, truthful answers to these questions and other issues - we might not be aware of - could help understand better who and what company CEO-leaders are called to be and why they do what they do out there.

    Is performance the top priority in the fine line that leaders have to walk? Is profit the top priority in the yardstick?
    • Lorre Zuppan
    • President, branes, LLC
    Given some of the factors that got us into this crisis in the first place, it's not surprising to see a resounding endorsement of transparency and honesty. I think the real question, as others have alluded, is how we share those frank assessments.

    Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and Amost Tversky asked two groups of people what should be done about a coming epidemic that, without action, would kill 600 people. The first group chose between Option A, which would save 200 people, or Option B, which had a 1/3rd chance of saving all 600 lives and a 2/3rds chance of losing them. The second group was asked to select Option A, where 400 people would die, or Option B, which had a 1/3rd chance of saving all 600 lives and a 2/3rds chance of losing them. Those in the first group chose Option A by a whopping 72%. Those in the second group chose Option B by an even greater margin: 78%. Same facts, markedly different decisions. It's not only that we share the facts, it's how we present the opportunities for action.

    And thus it is for leaders. In this time of crisis, there is no doubt that there is risk -- very great risk for some. But it is also a time of great opportunity. We can truly rethink how we do things. We have not only the freedom, but the duty, to question even the sacred cows.

    As both Peter Drucker and Marshall Goldsmith have said, often it's more about what you need to stop doing than what you need to start. Leaders everywhere now have greater opportunity than ever before in their careers to tap the creativity and insight of their teams simply by being honest about goals and the unique nature of this opportunity.

    A leader I work with summed it up well: "We all know that in a few years this issue may kill our organization, but everyone has been afraid to talk about it. If we can't find the will to stop it now --in this environment-- we never will."
    • Girlie L. Real
    • HR & Legal Senior Manager, VDI/MDCI
    The key word in all that is happening today is TRUST. T stands for transparency, R stands for respect, U stands for understanding myself and others, S stands for Selflessness, and finally T stands for Teamwork.

    Trust is earned through time - through good relations and honest dealings. It does not happen overnight. Thus, in the face of all these economic hullabaloo, we go back to the basics of all our relationships: employer-employee, superior-subordinate, etc. Transparency has to be seen in the light of trust, otherwise, there would be doubts of sincerity. Respect is letting your people know the truth so that they would be empowered to make wise decisions for themselve and for their families. Understanding oneself is knowing one's limitations and acknowledging other's capabilities and potentials. Thus, the "you and I could make a lot of difference" idea could be lived. Selflessness is going the extra mile to ensure that others do not lose their dignity. In the end, it is how you and I would work as a TEAM that would make a lot of difference in this present predicament. Some say what we are in today is a "karma." I would rather say, it is a time especially meant t
    o be so in order for people to realize that we - you and I - should be one as we are one. Only when we can do that - reaching out to others, especially to those who cannot give back in return - could we say, then, that we have TRUST for each other.

    If this is how we approach this economic crisis/depression, however we call it, we stand to learn and we stand to benefit from the fall. Everything has a purpose and all must have meaning towards the greater good. This should be one of those.
    • Kumara Uluwatta
    • Senior Lecturer in Management Accountancy, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka
    This is situational. Frank or deceptive also relative figure, and depends on the thinking philosophy. As an example, if people are honest and loyal in any country, the leader has to be frank. In Sri Lanka there is a saying "DESE HATIYATA BASE" (you must behave according to your area/situation). Specially in organisations, leaders must study the org. environment before being frank or deceptive. No one can say what is or what level is right or wrong and there also cannot be supposed a well-packed theoretical framework on this.
    • Nimmy
    • KM, Oracle
    An optimist can always afford to be honest! Can't think of a pessimist being a leader. A leader who is optimistic and honest gives food for thought and soul. A leader who is optimistic but not honest does not provide food for thought.

    Reminds me of situations involving doctors who deal with complicated diseases - how do they communicate with the patient? How do they spread hope while at the same time being honest with the potential implications of the disease? Curing someone of a disease involves both optimism/hope and 'realistic' - painful - treatment.
    • Moses
    • Asst. HR Manager, Campus Crusade Asia Ltd
    Truth without grace is hard to digest for the audience.
    On the contrary, grace without truth leads to deception.
    Truth plus grace (honesty in the context of relationships) will lead to growth and maturity. Relationships or environments will take time to cultivate.
    • Shruthi Sridharan
    • Human Resources
    In my observation - Leadership teams across the world are being cautious about not just the "what" but also the "how" and "when" of what they are communicating -

    It may not be entirely possible to give the brual truth in many cases -as it may adveresly impact employee morale,engagement and productivity thereof. Hence this makes imperative filtering of adverse information as it cascades down the levels

    Further to extend the point on self fullfiling prophecy - it may well seem prudent to reinforce positive messages and focus on what needs to be done from a here and now and future point of view rather than dwelling on what went wrong!

    Given the ambiguity and flux in the current environment, it may be very tough to predict what lies ahead. Hence I guess "inflated exuberance" may be very misleading and being very "tight lipped" can abet further anxiety.

    I guess a suitable posture for leadership at this juncture would be to keep communication channels open for feedback to assuage any employee anxieties; be cautious in messaging about here an now; stay positive about future plans!
    • Stuart Domijan
    • Analyst, MCB
    I do agree that honesty remains an essential characteristic of a good leader. In my opinion honesty here is the ability of the leader to present any information in his possession in the most objective and unbiased way.

    What makes a great leader is his/her ability to galvanise his/ her troops in the face of adversity even though the odds are against him/her. The challenges here is that not all of his followers will have the same objectives and react in the same way to adversity. So while remaining honest he should explain to his followers how they are impacted, what sacrifice is required from them and demonstrate why it is in their best interest to follow him.

    In the best of worlds the leader should be honest and get the best out of those following him. However I do realise that we live and work in an imperfect world, where there is asymmetry of information and what holds true today changes in the next hour. In an era where image and perception have taken so much importance how easy is it to provide an honest representation of reality and accept its consequences? I do not know.
    • Heather Neary
    • Executive Chef, MCCS
    The age of Twittering Congressmen and Senators, Facebook, DIGG and other social media resources have created instant bubbles of information from sources that are not necessarily media driven. This type of frank viral communication raises awareness, attenuates apathy and tolerance of corruption for a whole new generation.

    Transparency gives rise to Leaders that must earn the public trust by behaving in a way that serves the public good, and they have an obligation to operate ethically. The challenge faced by today's Leader's lies in the ability undo all the mistrust that has surfaced as a result of all of the previous "spins" placed on misinformation.

    Leaders can use the synergistic accumulative effect by balancing what is publically noted by having more positive beliefs than negative beliefs displayed about any situation. When faced with failures, to inspire others a Leader needs to show how his vision is going to strengthen the current situation or rather what the plan to bounce back is and how we are going to measure its success for all to see.
    • George Ashworth
    • International Manager, Fortis Group
    It must be a great question. It has prompted my first ever response to HBS Working Knowledge!

    The question rather pre-supposes that there is a choice that a leader can make in terms of the leadership behaviours to be demonstrated. The choice is whether to be frank or deceptive (or otherwise). However, the "choice" may be more illusory than real. It may well be the case that situational circumstances or even regulatory compliance may conspire against or even ultimately deny the leader such a choice. Therefore the contextual situation has an important bearing upon the behaviours presented.

    In my experience of leadership (of leading and being led), there is I believe within each leader a core leadership style. This core style is predicated upon the individual's own value set and moral compass which will have been ingrained over several years from a combination of sources but principally from parents.

    Through a combination of learning and experience, an individual wraps around this core style certain attributes etc in order to enhance their "leadership style". When everything else is stripped away, as is generally happening now in the exceptional circumstances many of us face, it is the core style that the individual generally reverts to. "Reversion to type" summarises the position.

    My contention is that if that core style is predicated on a value set that is long on honesty, openness etc, then the leader will more naturally gravitate toward this. I also feel like DRb above that co-operational rather than confrontational behaviours achieve better and more lasting results.

    If on the other hand the core style is short on these values and supporting attributes then the leader (and very often the organisation he leads) is very likely in trouble. Going against the grain will not allow the leader to pass any "smell test" as one subscriber so aptly describes it with any audience, internal or external.
    • Rogers Matama
    • Author, Lecturer and Consultant, Luckyfamily
    For sure leadership is not a straight forward process. I do believe both 'softness and hardness' are fundamental in the leadership exercise; for the those persons who are still in the confort zones and are not willing to shift an 'iron hand' perspective in a must.On the other hand, for the ones who have selfless work ethic and willingness to work a soft leadreship style will be necessary. Otherwise the core principles of governance such as transparency, trust, and ethical conduct are a must for all leaders in the 21st century.
    • DS Pathania
    A good leader should be ridiculously honest.
    • Kiconco Gloria
    • Events Director, Blindsware House
    Effective leaders must be trustworthy, transparent and truthful at all times no matter the consequences. Of course leading by example is a must.
    • Bruce Watson
    • Founder & Principal, Heads Together
    "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

    This line of thought equates with the omnipotent 'leader' having the wisdom of god and the power to know what is best for everyone else. Give me a break. Most can't seem to even be truthful about the fallacy of 'leadership' and 'leader'. Why do people persist in using terms that are completely unhelpful.

    There are acts of leadership that virtually anyone is capable of given a situation and context.

    Get back to the issue of good managers and how they may effectively and honestly influence (not manipulate) people. Recognise that managers are influential and dump the crock about 'leaders' - it's a red herring.
    • Luis X. B. Mourao
    • Senior Manager, Bang & Olufsen
    In theory we should be frank and realistic, i.e. face the facts and be honest.

    So let's be frank and real. In practice capitalism is about optimizing your piece of the cake, not personal, social or civic responsibility, not what's good for mankind or the planet or even transparency.

    As Tom Dolembo says "Improve my perks, increase my power, build my resume". That's the name of the game.

    With few oddball exceptions the worlds social and economical infrastructure is designed that way, and you are either naive, very brave or stupid to fight it. And let's face it the majority of people are none.

    If we want to change that we need to reconsider capitalism, the values it represents and the values we want.
    • Carrie
    • Productive Learning
    My answer is "always truthful" - but just what is the real truth? It is this very subjectivity that allows both great and hideous things to be the result of leaders' actions. Vision is the real issue - leaders must constantly remind and refresh the shared common vision they work hard to identify and articulate. LISTEN my friend and you will hear...
    • David Miller
    • Consultant,
    It is interesting to note that neither George Akerlof nor Robert Sheeler had a blessed clue that this economic downturn would be as severe as it presently is. So much for Nobel prizes in economics.

    Brutal honesty is the only reasonable course of action in dealing with this economy.
    • Anonymous
    Everyone should be absolutely ruthlessly honest - Leaders and non leaders alike. Anything less than complete honesty is disastrous - in the long run. Lies, deceptions are not sustainable.
    There is however one exception to the rule, in my opinion. In a conflict resolution situation, it is sometimes necessary to gain the trust of both parties by exaggerating one's sympathies for them.
    • Jay Somasundaram
    • Systems Analyst
    What is truth?

    Firstly, the future is unknowable. Secondly, seeing a glass as half-full is not deception. Thirdly, there is a difference between self-deception and lying. Bush's claim that Iraq had WMD was self-deception and incompetence, not a delberate act of deceit. Fourthly, is refusal to countenance the truth of an outsider deception? The US demands free trade but provides farm subsidies. It holds that Iran can't have nuclear weapons, but won't dismantle its own.

    Finally, how complicit are those deceived? Consider Madoff. Did he deceive the SEC or did they, at some level, not want to know? Followers are not mindless robots who must obey every command. Followers are responsible for the choices they make.
    • Bina Nadeem
    • Consultant, CPBEP
    Deceptive leaders are little pharoahs.
    Assuming leadership role does not make one leaders. Hence, situationally, a leader in today's fast track economic trends has to jump on a runaway train and using all the posssible strategies of course ESP; overcomes the situation, which is quite stressful and painstaking. Not forgetting the pyramid gets tighter as we go up - leader.
    It is also where the cascading of various attributes takes place.
    Honest and organized system of communication, respect of all employees and decision-making are high-rated factors a leader should prioritize and build upon.
    • Dora Bonnet
    • Manager
    Leaders should know the people who work with them and therefore disclose the information he/she considers can be managed appropriately within each context and groups of people. The role of leaders is to find answers, solutions and make appropriate decision and thus focus his communication in achieving those results. It is not a matter of deception or disclosure. It is knowing what to say and where to say it.
    • Kapil Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC (India) Private Limited
    First of all good leaders wear a halo of credibility around them. This stage is reached by leaders who go to the extra mile in everything they do, make time every day to reconnect to their highest ideals and boldest dreams, play with brilliance with every teammate/customer/prospect/stranger and thereby make the smartest moves one can make. A leader is constantly under close watch and people do understand the sincerity of what is professed and what is the real behind. It is well known who walks the talk and who simply instructs/advises others to do without at the same time becoming an example himself. Once an element of understanding and true faith is developed across the organisation, all developments taking place would transparently be transmitted on day to day basis and element of surprise leading to shock would be minimised if not totally done away with.

    Such a leader can communicate, call a spade a spade, be properly understood and would also be taken on face value.
    While the above is the ideal situation, the reality is otherwise. The present leadership tries to be mischievously tactful expecting all others but not oneself to deliver the best. Autocratic rather than democratic behaviour is reflected and an element of fear is created by keeping a Damocle's sword over every one. Obviously, this leads to corporate misgovarnance and doom in many cases.

    Even when the self-fulfilling prophecies of good leaders do not stand the test of time, they would not be misunderstood and positivity will prevail. Masking personal negative feelings in an effort to inspire good performance may sometimes work as a very short time merasure but the truth shall dawn and then slide down will begin. Hence this will be an unproductively deceptive course of action which must not be taken at all.
    • Jite Jagboro
    • Student, Caleb University, Lagos, Nigeria
    Why should a leader be deceptive? Irrespective of whatever economics theory is propounded by anyone, why should a leader withhold valuable information from those that would be affected? To be honest with you, I would like to affirm that the main problems in the world are caused by leaders trying to be smart - in withholding information. The present recession in world economies would have been averted if the right information were available when the warning bells were ringing on Wall Street.
    • Mike MacDonald
    • Principal, Alden Options
    Candor, honesty, realism ... upbeat, optimistic, approachable ... communicate to a fault, update progress or state of the company regularly, be sensitive to employee uneasiness and fears ... get in front of customers as much as possible ... LEAD!
    • John Emmanuel
    • COO, Reliant Research & Resources Consulting, Lagos Nigeria.
    Leadership goes with followership.

    As a leader you need to consider how you will feel when your followers are deceptive and put this side by side with when they are frank with you. This senario will tell you where you can put you trust on. Clearly you will trust your followers who are frank and dislike the ones who are deceptive.

    So if you expect your subordinates to trust and hold you in hihe esteem, the key prerequisite is to be frank and transparent and never to be deceptive.
    • Dibankap Benvictor
    • Executive Coordinator, Zarephath Foundation for Development and Cooperation
    To deal with this question is very important for every genuine leader to ask himself or herself this question: "Would I be comfortable with a deceptive follower?" If you cannot be comfortable with a deceptive follower, then you should not afford to be a deceptive leader. In other words, my advice to every sincere and genuine leader is "do unto others what you would expect from them."

    Limbe, Cameroon
    • Adrian Grigoriu
    • EA consultant
    Should a leader not be pessimistic? Or should he not acknowledge that? It looks like the impression on others is what matters. Should then deception be employed to inspire optimism? Deception conveys a false sense of security thus postponing the realization of reality. Hence, deception leads to decisions that may render things worse. At best, a leader may hide own emotions but not doubts or the reality.

    A leader must be confident. Confidence though is more than optimism. It's optimism that relies on inner abilities and past experience, ie competence. A leader's wrong footed confidence leads to disasters given the consequences of decisions.

    Deception is also likened to a leader's theatrical abilities. An actor plays a role, that is behaves like someone else. Actors are elected leaders because they are popular in their roles. But in practice, are they competent or playing the role?
    Appearance is to some more important than substance. Stereotypes are created on which leaders are then wrongly selected on appearance, on how well they play a role rather than substance.
    • Anonymous
    Faith, Trust, Belief in others are deep feelings that guide us in our direction. Direction that we might take ourselves, or follow a leader. Deception is not one of those. owever, Leaders and Managers sometime have an understanding of a situation that the followers cannot comprehend, hence, for the benefit of the good cause, saying things from a different angle or point of view has to be used in order to make things happen.
    • Segun Akande
    • Web Developer, Oceanic Bank
    Transparency, candor, frankness except deceptiveness are all good qualities a leader should have so as to earn the trust from his followers, but some leaders have climbed the ladder of deceptiveness in the name of diplomacy, by withholding information, exaggerating and so on. This to me might only help temporarily since the information they are withholding would eventually become known to their followers. Any information that poses potential adverse effects to any organisation should be shared and deliberated upon as to how to resolve it and move forward as by doing so, the leader is getting his followers involved in leadership which will in turn add to the bottom line of the organisation. All members of the team at any level should have leadership skills/qualities, this will make the organisation more effective in its dealings. Therefore, as a leader honesty is the best practice, because a dishonest leader will not earn the respect of his followers.
    • Bamini
    While the question of "How pessimistic can a CEO be?" is very relevant, the reverse is a very dangerous situation. If a leader has the habit of mailing/ blogging only about the good news while there is more bad news to be shared, it calls for a lot of confusion and mistrust among the employees.

    While sharing quarterly updates, most leaders close with a flourish and keep the good name. However, when it is time for action to tackle the bad news- be it dealing with bench/ cost optimization, the middle level managers are entrusted with the responsibility. So the employees develop a mistrust about the communication from the CEO's desk.
    • MJ Goh
    • General Manager, from Singapore
    Leaders build trust. The platform of sustained leadership is honesty. Frank leaders who care about the sensitivities of those they influence have their frankness translate to honesty that return with trust. Leaders who are insensitive towards people are not frank but just blunt and inconsiderate. Deceptive leaders are serpents to those they influence. The choice of leaders to be either frank or deceptive, reflect much of the leader's values, motivations and perceptions.
    • Lindiwe Matlali
    • Managing Director, Prompt Research Insights
    I think leaders should be transparent and open to some extent. Leaders have to encourage the employees to work hard, they can't be pessimistic. Even if they have doubts, unless they have concrete proof that the company will not make it, they should not say anything. If employees feel insecure about their job security, it'll affect their morale which will empact on their productivity.

    When they have concrete reasons whay they think the company won't make it, then they need to disclose that information to their employees.
    • Darek Johnson
    • Proprietar, Cj2Imaging
    Obama, instead of adopting Lincoln as a mentor, should study Winston Churchill's WWII actions and speeches.
    Churchill, you may recall, was both honest and inspiring.
    • Anonymous
    The question is about Leader behavior. The problem seems to be we have a lot of people in command who are NOT leaders...those who game the systems to aggrandize themselves and save their almighty $ bonus.

    The large bonuses are incentives to game...not lead.
    What leaders, the real ones, do they are already doing quite nicely. The others in leadership positions are just...well they have no clothes.

    The unfortunate thing is that there are boards of directors who don't have a clue either...and they are supposed to be leading. Most of those are incestuously looking out for their own money and rubber stamps.
    • Adam Hartung
    • Managing Partner, Spark Partners
    In business communications, what's important is the discussion of the future. Talking about how badly you did - this morning or last year - or talking about how bad a marketplace is - today or last quarter - is of little real meaning. What matters is telling people what they can do to make tomorrow better!

    The future is what we make it. Good leader/managers use past information to craft a story about the future which inspires us toward success. And they offer direction to help us feel empowered that we can make that successful future happen.

    I knew a CEO with a military background who found himself in a tough situation. He gathered 3 levels of management in a room and told them that if they didn't change, the whole business could fail. He offered details of recent activities which had resulted poorly. He then chided them to "get out there and do better." He told them to work harder and smarter and achieve better. The demoralized group soon returned even worse performance and the business did fail.

    Transparency about the past can be helpful at making sure no one makes a bad decision out of ignorance. But everything in the past is irrelevant for what the future can be. And the goal of communication must be to set the agenda for the future and position the activities and behaviors that can achieve a better future.
    • Daniel Kwadzo Mensah
    • Deputy Director of Finance, E.C.G. Ghana
    Leadership is a source of both happiness and acrimony to both the leader and followers as well. Therefore, frankness and honesty which reflect positive qualities that serve as the basis leaders create happiness for people and his her followers is divine. These qualities must be adopted by anybody who has found him- or herself in leadership position to ensure happiness to his or her subjects and followers.

    However, deceptiveness or deliberately deceiving people or followers that something is true cannot be divine, and one is likely to get punished by God for not upholding the truth.
    • Matthew Kidder
    Candor is something that cannot exist in a world where businesses and other societal groups seek: 1) to make global political change, 2) to mitigate political risks with long term strategic shifts in capital, 3) to subvert their competition, 4) to gain societal rank and power, 5) to establish and maintain their group and interests as societal winners.

    Dissention will arise with a hypothetical increase in candor because businesses are competing not only against each other but against other groups in society. Competition not candor is the strategic goal that was described in Sun Tzu's "Art of War". Deception is the principal tool to be used to gain societal ranking, while candor could prove to be a groups greatest weight to the bottom.

    Undoubtedly, this is a sad truth but it is one that cannot be changed without creating a group of conspiring opposition, who will eventually rise to elite status and change the candid reforms that once limited their covert actions.
    • Jack Flanagan
    • SVP, Operations, USO
    Daniel Patrick Moynihan said it best - "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts".
    • Anonymous
    I agree with Anon (at no. 16). I would also say the world isn't black and white. Staff are increasingly litigous and savvy - they want to know something. I reject the idea that the opposite of transparency is deception, or that what isn't transparent is deceptive. Transparency needn't be all or nothing. And full transparency that isn't tempered is negligent. God isn't called compliance. What is more interesting is that when things go wrong, what independent measures are available to investigate claims and what measures will protect whistleblowers with a case and punish timewasters?
    • Frank
    • College Professor, Anderson
    This one is easy; always tell the truth as it eventually comes out anyway. Plus, it is the RIGHT thing to do.
    • D. Chevion
    • CEO
    We must clearly distinguish between 2 "timeframes" - one is the past to now and the second is the future. When leaders talk about the past or the current they must be transparent and open and provide all the information relevant to the situation, etc. etc. BUT when dealing with the future, which is unknown, the situation is different: a leader of a small company or the strongest nation will have an influence on the actual outcome of "the future" in his/her domain. This means that what that leader articulates and passes on to his/her "influenced group of individuals" will be partly responsible for the outcome and therefore I think the leader has the right and actually the responsibility and the duty to make sure that what he/she sais is in line with his/her goals for the organization/country he/she is leading and is part of the agenda that leader was chosen to promote when given the office. If the leader does not believe in his/her agenda and ability to attain its goals, it is obvious he/she will not be able to convince the "influenced" to follow his/her lead.

    We will always be able to argue about whether the leader should have used the "carrot" or the "stick" as the motivator, I think both are OK, depending on the situation. But this choice does not mean the leader does not have the prerogative to lead in one direction or the other.
    • Lee Thayer
    • CEO, The Leader's Journey
    Are you asking how good a broadway actress has to be to fill the seats?
    It's a matter of competence in the role, isn't it?
    It's the performance that counts.
    • Anonymous
    There has been some very good thoughts posted. I think that as long as the media harps on the negative then no matter what is communicated or how it is lost. Where is the media in all of this? Why are they not communicating in an unbiased, rational manner. Why at this time are they still yelling the proverbial "the sky is falling". We need open honest assessments which encourage those of us in financial and physical hardship from greed and dishonesty to persevere. For those not so hard hit the encouragement to think of others and what is BEST for the United States and the world. If we all got together and worked at fixing this mess and holding accountable those that need accountability I think the United States would turn around and very quickly.
    • Roger Emmerson
    • Business Developer
    Why do we differentiate our behavoiurs and reactions at home to those at work or in business? We are emotional animals first (depsite all the stuff about emotional intelligence)and being of the herd makes us naturally want to follow a lead. We follow leaders not from curiosity or demand to do so- we do it for charismatic reasons that refresh the most powerful motivator of all- hope. Look at key leaders in history who inspired hope and see what they got going- even Adolf Hitler got things moving despite the intentions due to tapping into hope. So we want our leaders to tell us the truth- BUT we want them to give us hope and lead us forward and away from the danger too
    • firoza ahmed
    • president, community development council
    Does one think that brutal frankness makes a "humane leader"? If he is sensitive and cares for the people he is leading he will know exactly what the answer is. If an individual is responsible for a team, he must have been selected for qualities of both the heart and the mind. Hence the question of "deception" and its consequences should rest on those who placed him in a position where he is in incapable of deciding what is right and what is wrong.

    What about some "soul searching"?
    • Fiona Leinster-Evans
    • Project Officer
    Theodore Roosevelt and Churchill both promised 'blood, toil, tears and sweat'; great leaders are honest, and have their boots in the mud as they lead to the high ground.

    Leaders must be both pessimistic, in planning for the worst, and optimistic, in spurring people on to work for something better.
    • Manasvini
    • Program Design and Management, Kaleidoscope
    Honest truths can be expressed in different terms to different people without being "deceptive". Most parents experience that on a daily basis!

    The second question is of being "ruthlessly" candid. I think the issue is of intellectual integrity in assessing the situation... and not ruthlessness in its original meaning (as in cruel / without compassion).

    I've observed that whenever "truth" is expressed within a frame of openness, kindness and understanding, most people get it - and are also motivated to be solution oriented and positive, irrespective of the bad news the "truth" contained.
    • habib m. sallah
    • principal management trainer, management development institute
    Is frankness synonymous with honesty? I think the two are different. The question should ask about leaders honesty to stakeholders. The answer for that is simple. We learnt that honesty is the best policy from infanthood. Be honest about what you want and make your demand and accept your results and move forward. Dishonesty is a load of baggage even in an ALi Baba environment. Deception is the key to more deception until you are deceived by those you trust.
    • sundar rao
    • ceo, susikkshit hr consultants, hyderabad, india
    Leaders cannot be brutally honest and give out all negative signals - which will demoralise and demotivate the organisation members. But then facts have to be spoken and should not be hidden especially when the going is bad. This dichotomy cann best be balanced "by telling the bad news with a smiling face," meaning instill confidence that we can do it.
    • Hugh Wertz
    • MBA Student, WU
    Leaders that bring personal negative feelings to the business operations and communications aspects should do so in a way that fosters and contributes to the strategy and vision of the organization. Leaders inherently contribute to the organization based on attributes that include the personal values they gained through association in their culture--and their ability to manage their level of five cultural dimensions of value perspectives presented by Geert Hofstede (1980), may assist in their efforts to effectively lead. Correct placement of their personal feelings may create negative results if consideration is lacking.

    Taking a real personal interest in the employees, helps foster the intercommunication aspect that leads to motivation. Being purposively misleading or deceptive can only hinder this process, leading to a wide array of organizational problems. On the other side, being frank may hinder the process as well. Leaders should consider what business information is relevant and necessary, needed released or communicated, and important to which levels of the organization.

    Communicating with a positive spin, instilling pride, and recognizing performance are great motivators. Believing a negative discussion will lead to an outcome--or in this case, negative results--should encourage leaders to focus in on the organizational strategy and vision, proactively thinking and planning for the long-term, while working to create positive changes now.

    Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture's consequences: International differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
    • Olaniran Olugbenga
    • MICR officer, StanbicIBTC bank
    Concealing the true picture of things as a leader is criminal. Why pretend all is well when in the actual fact the real picture will in a jiffy be demystified after all. We should learn to face problems headlong and aim to bring normalcy to abnormalities in the aura of honesty. I am sure the followers will understand and accept the fate that may likely befall them in the eventuality of proposed antidotes not working as envisaged.
    • Kumara Uluwatta
    • Senior Lecturer in Management Accountancy, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka
    Today's very important strategic issues for business success or the failure are quality, flexibility and competitiveness. These factors should be common to all components of the organisation. To maintain leadership quality, leaders should be frank and honest. But to find out some strategic information or for strategic behavior, he has to be deceptive. That is also a way to maintain quality. If he wants to be flexible and competitive sometimes he has to be followed, and both frankness and deception matters. This totally depends upon the situation. There is no one best way.

    Frank: YES
    Deceptive: YES
    • Joe Schmid
    • Managing Principal, Oak Leaf Consulting, LLC
    Deception is not a valued attribute of any leader.

    Without a doubt, there will always be things that a leader simply cannot disclose for a number of good reasons. A leader saying that ". . . it is something that can't be discussed at this point" and leaving it at that - people can accept. It's all the dancing and posturing instead of holding the line and not discussing what can't be discussed that leads to suspicion. When a leader comes to a line - just say it; don't dance around and on it.

    That said secrecy always ends in cynicism and distrust. There is no future in it. A leader is accountable for communicating so people can decide either to own or not to own the leader's "vision". Without understanding the facts and the values behind those facts that has led to a leader's interpretation and advocating a necessary path forward, it is impossible for people to make a decision or even begin a debate.

    In the public sector the media controls communications to sound bites. For the President of the US to have to go on the Jay Leno show to start the communications process is embarrassing, albeit necessary. With the third pillar of American democracy in ruins, it becomes a mission impossible for any politician to communicate to an electorate that is so dispersed and diverse. So what we are left with is head shots and sound bites of interpretations that are missing the substantive facts and values that lead that person to that opinion.

    Leaders owe candor and not just the bottom-line interpretation. Regardless of negative or positive feelings there is a need to communicate the facts openly and un-hedged and the leaders interpretation of what it means. Communications is a process of disclosure and convergence. By-passing the first 5 steps of the communication's process is poor leadership - or better put no leadership.
    • Kathryn Aiken
    It is a classic Goldilocks and the Three Bears fable:

    1) The always optimistic CEO delivers the "My what a great job we are all doing!" speech while the wall is on fire behind him. He has low credibility with the employees.

    2) The negative CEO says: "We are doomed, but we are in this together-a team! A captain never abandons his ship!" He will quickly lead his employees to the unemployment office.

    3) The 'tell them what you know so far' leader will do well, always treating the employees with respect by giving them the facts to stay informed. This helps feel like part of the solution and allows them to rally behind the change initiatives needed to steer them to victory.

    Authenticity is the key to strong leadership.
    • John
    • President, TTL
    Honesty, trust, candor, optimism are all critical to lead. Leadership is not a job; it is an action that creates followers. The CEO needs to paint a picture that defines reality and can be seen as pessimistic if it lacks passion for change. Hope does not create action, it just creates hope.

    Candor can create the urgency required for change (John P. Kotter: Leading Change), but only if there is honesty, trust and optimism. Most organizations I've worked with fall into two categories: Hope for change without action, or commitment to change by building a community of committed change agents. The first creates the self-fulfilling prophecies and no change, the second creates the energy in the organization to change the status quo.
    Transparency is nice to say, it is more about what people see. My experience tells me if you are not honest and candid with the organization it will bite you, destroy trust and create entrenchment, all the enemies of change.
    The candor can be built on with a vision - the preferred future. Vision is critical to create change. Joel Barker has a wonderful idea about vision. "Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world."
    Honesty, trust, candor, optimism will help the organization move away from status quo and if the organization has a vision that invites people into the future (Collins BHAG) you can change your world.
    • Jill Malleck
    • OD Consultant, Epiphany at Work
    If you subscribe to social constructionism theory, then what leaders say has more relevance than how it impacts their own personal credibility and reputation. They must be aware of their heightened ability to influence and impact large groups of people every time they open their mouths. This is a huge responsibility and has led to the practice of having PR folks write most public speeches. David Cooperrider's work in Appreciative Inquiry has shown the importance of focusing on the good and the positive. Not because it is all that exists, but because it is the most important part of what exists. Even in a broken system - whether that be an economic system or the body of a cancer patient - there are elements that are healthy and that are working.

    Instead of trying to point blame, which is satisfying in a vindictive way, it is more helpful for leaders to admit to the complexity of systems and uncover what is working and what keeps them alive. Even as leaders point fingers (which makes the common man feel the victim - but now with a saving hero) we see the negative impacts. Frankly our society thrives on bad news and we often equate intelligence with the ability to be critical and find flaws. An Appreciative approach in a leader is a breathe of fresh air. It is a way of saying that we can choose how to move forward. An honest leader may decide to share her personal angst about a situation, but she should do so knowing that in our hierarchical society leaders are deemed to know more and understand more. Therefore, those listening, who would normally be optimistic, can be demotivated.

    The energy for change and to keep going when times are tough comes from holding a vision of a positive future. It is the leader's job to describe and hold up that vision. If a leader is personally demoralized it is best if she works through that with a private support network instead of the whole world. I don't see this as deceptive. Everyone has a private emotional life which they have a right to. Leaders should share both good and bad news - and when it is harder to find the good they must dig deeper and not take the easy route.
    • Sunil Varughese
    • Director, Brand Indigo LLC, Dubai
    Around 2,000 years ago a carpenter became a leader and a few uneducated fishermen and simple village folk became his disciples.

    This carpenter never uttered a lie and taught us that a leader must be a servant before he or she is given the authority to lead.

    I guess this carpenter's leadership style have stood the test of time--2,000 years is a fairly good period to draw learnings.

    Post this crisis at least, let us start emulating 'real' leaders and not eulogise leaders who have 'feet of clay' and 'myopic' vision.
    • Gaurav Goel
    • CEO's cell, RCom
    In the times of distress an optimistic leader, who has conviction in his own abilities and who believes that external factors can be overcome by efforts of his team, has better chances of success. If a leader thinks that bad performance of her team is because of external factor beyond her control or that of her team then deception would not work to encourage her team. There is no substitute of genuine optimism and such behavior is contagious.
    In 5 or 10 years we'll find many organizations that would emerge as winners and most of these are been led by people who genuinely believe that there are ample opportunities in the market. One can argue that optimism is a state of denial but in my opinion pessimism is the state of insecurity against one's abilities to deal with the situation.

    The first step to move from pessimism to optimism is to have confidence in one's own abilities. Second step is to develop a detailed understanding of the current environment that is affecting one's industry. The thirds step is to reprioritize the activities of the team (in consultation with the team). Positive communication and an open feedback mechanism would come handy in enhancing team's moral and to achieve desired goals. (Well, having desired goals is step zero).
    • EAH
    • assistant director and business student, an urban school district
    I applaud these votes for transparency and honesty in business leadership. Wouldn't it be refreshing if these views were exhibited by our most powerful business leaders, and in their actions - not merely their published works. We would have a different world.
    • Firozali A. Mulla DBA
    • CEO, Waterloo Commercial College Ltd
    If you went back in history, how would you define Robin Hood as a leader? Honest. Robber or a good citizen? We are changed now; we want to loot these days by all means. I thank you.
    • Peter Yeboah
    • Team Leader, Ernst & Young LLP
    Leading an organisation has sometimes been likened to leading troops in battle.

    Which attitude on the part of the General is more likely to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

    Honest pessimism or 'deceptive' (ie 'economical with the truth') optimism ?

    I'd say the latter.
    • Jasper Ojongtambia
    • Consultant, AEC Computer Division
    Honesty is and will always be the best policy at home or in any business.

    Ethic: It is ethical for a good leader to be honest, frank and transparent in dealing with issues facing the enterprise. The truth about the economic situation of the enterprise may be a bitter bill to spell out but being honest and coming up with a road map to navigate through the hard times demonstrate character, vision and candor of a good leader.

    Conclusion: It is my opinion that any good leader should be frank, honest and avoid any deceptive practices to gain initial favors at the expense of future dealings and generations.
    • B. L. Francis
    • CEO, MSI Commercial
    Ask yourself, if you ruled the world and you knew for a fact the world would end tomorrow, would you tell the people you lead? I feel if you answer no, you should not be the leader.

    "Truth" has no holiday or needs no apology. They say, "It will set you free." Who doesn't want to be free, the leader or the people they lead?

    The scientific method has found that the solution, ergo the truth, lies within the "so called problem." we have the grave tendency to avoid the truth, in favor of winning favor. Life is horrible "without the truth."
    • Varun Sahay
    • Owner, VARUNSAHAY Consulting
    When leaders lie- white lies about their business or the economy then it is for a short term gain as the only thing they have to gain or lose is their personal credibility.

    Reputation is all that matters and honesty is a virtue. If a leader does not pay heed to these two simple facts of life then one he will not be a leader for long and two he has to live with the risk that one day he will loose them take Mr Buffett as an example. He has reputation, honesty and credibility all on his side.

    And then you have Bernard Lawrence "Bernie" Madoff who needs no introduction.

    Simply put: be positive in life and the message in difficult times will be conveyed. You don't have to lie or state an opinion if you are a person whose statements change the common mans life. Think about it when Dick Cheney tried to "mislead the American public" by his statement on March 16 that Saddam had nuclear weapons.

    I used to be a CEO until last September and then was released from my position. The decision was not based on my leadership skills but on the facts and these were frank and honest facts regarding our entry into a new market when the market was still in its infancy stage. I could have been dishonest and shown that the market was ready for a manufacturing plant but that would have been a lie. And to top it off we had the financial crisis which made borrowing have a negative impact on our ROCE.

    I can live with it.

    Our economy has taken a beating, unemployment is at an all time low and when Citi bank allows an internal memo to be leaked then its share price rises. Does this reflect reality or just ignorance on the part of the common man?

    Even if I would like to be positive it is difficult to shield ourselves from the lies that are floating about in the market place. With production data being negative, less demand for exports in BRIC countries, and imports receding into BRIC countries it is difficult to conceive a market recovery even if the FED is busy printing money to stop deflation from occurring.

    In order to survive I am simply being optimistic and reading everything that I can get my hands on in the hope that the media is painting a true picture from which I can make my own opinion and take a stand.

    Leaders have to be frank and not dishonest in order to preserve their own integrity just like all of us have to too.
    • William P. MacKinnon, MBA 1962
    • President, MacKinnon Associates
    Not only should leaders be honest, open, and transparent, they must also bring sound judgement and maturity to their comments. Words need to be chosen carefully. Leaders sometimes lose sight of the extent to which followers in their organizations (and other people) key to their words. Leaders need to be careful not to fall prey to the very human tendency to vent anger and frustration in public lest they indulge in negative leadership. Sometimes ill-chosen words and negative leadership have life-and-death consequences as well as P&L impact, with devastating consequences for not only the victims of violence but the organization of the leaders who unleashes such forces.

    An example of such dynamics would be Senator Grassley's very recent comments about suicide while venting about today's financial scandals and problems. The senator later met criticism by distancing himself from his comments by describing them as mere "rhetoric." He may be lucky if that is how history comes to view the intemperance of what he said.

    Another example of the deadly, expensive consequences of mere "rhetoric" can be seen in the backwash from Brigham Young's tenure as Governor of Utah Territory during the period 1850-1857. So violent were Young's public utterances during this period (in one public discourse in Salt Lake City in May 1853 he advocated the summary execution of thieves) that in 1857 the president of the U.S. removed him from office and dispatched nearly one-third of the U.S. Army to restore federal authority to Utah. The result was a guerrilla campaign that pitted the army against Young's territorial militia, an armed confrontation that was the country's most extensive and expensive military involvement during the period between the Mexican and Civil wars. Through additional exercise of ambiguous communications and negative leadership, the Utah territorial militia committed an atrocity -- the Mountain Meadows Massacre -- that was the country's worst case of organized mass murder against unarmed civilians -- 120 infants, women, and disarmed men shot and bludgeoned at point-blank range -- until the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

    Leaders' words count and have consequences. Mountain Meadows was an atrocity that brought Brigham Young's adopted son, Maj. John D. Lee, before a firing squad twenty years after the event; Young himself was indicted (but not tried) for another atrocity during the Utah War as well as for treason. There is an obligation to be not only open, honest, and transparent, but also to be responsible and clear. For more information on the Brigham Young leadership "case" and its lamentable consequences, which continue to this day, see Chapter 12 ("Lonely Bones": Violence and Leadership) of my book "At Sword's Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858" (Norman, Okla.: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 2008).

    For another example, the case of how leader-behavior triggered the bloody mutiny aboard HMS Bounty in the late 1700s, see Greg Denning, "Mr. Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theater on H.M. Armed Vessel Bounty" (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
    • Matthew Kidder
    Response to #99: Everyone can be categorized as honest, a robber and a good citizen when compared relative to different groups in society and an individual's worth cannot be compared generally to society since such a comparison ignores the existence of winners and losers in the game that we have created.
    • Anne Kelly
    • Principal, Center for Human Capital Innovation
    Today more than ever, it is essential that leaders in all sectors, demonstrate leadership by being authentic, honest, and with an aura of confidence and optimism. After we have witnessed so many fallen leaders over the past decade, to truly deserve the title of leader, they need to exude both integrity and confidence in their ability to confront whatever challenges exist and lead their followers to a positive and hoped for outcome.
    • Edward Hare
    • Retired Director, Strategy and Planning, Fortune 300 Mfr'r.
    The answer seems to depend on how the "leader" views the role, character, and ethics of "leadership". If manipulation is considered part of the job then it would seem that anything goes so long as the desired outcomes result in the short-term. We see plenty of examples of that everyday, in business and government. It's not about shades of right or wrong or even about what may be "best". It's about what's expedient.

    But if long-term credibility and respect are high on a leader's list of desirable personal traits then that value system tends to show itself in many of the sound and constructive ways mentioned by those who've taken the time to comment on the subject.
    • Nelson Norman
    • Emeritus Prof of History, San Diego State University
    With 107 replies, you touched a raw nerve, a live wire. As the worst HBS student on record, I have been granted as consolation 100% accuracy in evaluations.
    SO: I agree with all your correspondents. As to the problem presented, my secular-humanist side says: boss in whatever way is necessary. My religious side says: do the impossible and never tell a lie!
    • Paul Chisholm
    • CEO, IFD Corporation
    In my more than 30 years of management experience in some of the best managed companies, I can think of no time when competent leadership and candor did NOT produce the desired result.

    The key assumption, your best people are bright and exude the right kind of energy! They get it. They can then follow your lead. They get enthused by the opportunity to achieve in tough circumstances.

    So, don't short sell your best people. Tell it like you see it...key assumption, the leader is bright too...he/she sells the right story.
    • Elena Mishakova
    • CIS AM, Samsung Electronics
    A true leader is the one whom people admire, respect and are willing to follow. To become the one, the leader should believe and be confident in what he is doing. If he is deceptive, sooner or later this will be revealed by employees, and then the leader will lose the trust, hence, the power.

    Being frank with people does not mean that you should tell everything to them, the leader may not say all to his followers, but he should never lie. For instance, if you are leading the project and you got some data that the goal you are working on can never be met. By sharing this information with your colleagues, you prevent them from trying to achieve the goal, from being creative. On the contrary, the leader should encourage his employees, he might not get the desired result at the end but the one he gets can be close to the perfection.

    It is not easy to gain the trust, but once you lose it is gone forever. Why taking a risk and putting so much at stake by being deceptive?
    • Anonymous
    No doubt the theme of topic is fantastic, the authors made their best effort, but of course there were some lacks in differentiating the frankness and deceptiveness and to me this is just because of the learnings of religion whatsoever we are avoiding from.

    I appreciate that this aspect of business is enlightened by the authors generously and they did it full justice.
    • Vivek Verma
    • Director, Dr. Reddy's
    It's surely important to be transparent and tell the truth and on this front there cannot be compromises. A leader who can't tell the truth and face reality cannot be doing justice to self, organization or the society.

    Knowing the truth, undertstanding and communicating the same to teams is hence not a choice, it's a duty.

    There's nothing wrong however in being optimistic yet and being able to direct the energies of the team in cracking the issues & problems with a positive approach. Good to Great companies did both.

    Every crisis is an opportunity. Every crisis is a moment of truth. Every crisis can bring the teams together to deliver higher value.

    Built on a foundation of trust, a team can do and does wonders with candor, transparency and truthful approach.
    • Mma Ekeleme
    • Admin Mgr, Benson Ekeleme & Co
    There should not be deception in leaders at all. They should be as frank as ABC. Leadership should be transparent. People trust leaders who are honest, trustworthy and open. Deceptive leaders will have serious problems in the long run.

    Beside being realistic, leaders should be able to encourage and motivate their people no matter how adverse the situation is at the moment. No condition is permanent. The openness of leaders can lead to their team coming up with creative ideas that could remedy the situation.
    • Dr. Hemjith Balakrishnan
    • Group Senior Vice President, Strategy & HR, Health Prime International
    It is believed as a gospel that "Leaders are dealers in hope". This leaves us with food for thought as to whether those "dealing" in actual life situations are fact based, evidence based or myth generated ones.

    Let us rewind to history to the Greco-Roman times. Leadership and theatrics owes it inheritances to Aristotle (350 BC) with his work on "Poetics". According to Aristotle, leaders perform all six poetic parts of theatre such as - Plot/ Character /Theme /Dialog /Rhythm /Spectacle.

    Much later we had the Arbinger Institute come out with their work on "Leadership & Self-Deception" (2002) which introduced all of us to yet another concept in the way organizations function. It highlighted how problems that typically prevent superior performance in organizations are the result of a little-known problem called "self- deception." According to the authors, people who are in self-deception live and work as trapped in a box. Blind to the reality around them, they undermine performance--both their own and others'. The problem is, being in the box they can't see that they undermine performance. Consequently, they don't change, and neither do their results. Leadership and Self-Deception shows what self- deception is, how people get trapped in it, how it kills organizational performance, and--most importantly--the surprising way to solve it.

    We had yet another notion that "All Leadership Development is "Self development" and we had Noel Tichy with his notion of Transformational leadership one which exists for change, innovation and entrepreneurship. Put forward by Noel Tichy as follows: leaders are visionaries; leaders identify themselves as change agents; they are courageous individuals; they believe in people; they are value driven; they are life-long learners; and they have the ability to deal with complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty.

    Evaluating all the turmoil happening in global economy today, I question as to whether "Leadership is a myth or not? I started getting mixed feelings as to whether half of the stuff people associate with leadership does it exist or not? And can it exist under any circumstances? But with only pure 'Reality' you cannot lead. You need stuff which is just 'myth' and deceptive for people to get intoxicated and believe many non-existing virtues in their leaders and pull on with hope generated by such myth. For Myth constantly generates false hopes and hope is HOPE whether false or genuine. As both work wonders on people who just need an imaginary support to drive through imaginary troubles? When half our troubles too are only imaginary and hence a myth, it is not surprising that another myth acts as a remedy. Most often we see the leader is under intoxication of praise showered on him by his followers for his non-existing virtues and the followers are under intoxication of non-existing superman like qualities that the leader is imagined to possess and is expected to display in times of crisis.

    To quote James M Burns, "Leadership is the most discussed but least understood concept".
    • Dr. Dan Erwin
    • President, Erwin Group
    As a university faculty member 25 years ago, my next door colleague was a psychologist. Recently we had coffee together and he alluded to the "transparency fad" in psychology of that many years ago. Ultimately, he suggested, the community--read, "marketplace"--takes advantage of one's transparency--and the result is not always pretty. He had decided that he was naive to accept it wholeheartedly, and I suspect he was correct.

    Emphases such as transparency grow out of contexts of need, attain some usefulness, then fade as their value dissipates.
    • Sujeet Prabhu
    • Manager, Larsen & Toubro Limited
    In the Hindu Epic Mahabharata, Krishna, knew that Yudhishtira, who was known to always speak the truth, would not be able to lie. A lie was needed to win the war and so he had all the warriors beat war-drums and cymbals to make as much noise as possible at the critical moment, so that only the pleasant part of the truth could be heard drowning the unpleasant bit.

    I think this is what is currently required. A leader with credibility should speak the truth, but enough "noise" should be created to communicate confidence and positivity for the future. That is the way to win the war against this recession.
    • Dan Wallace
    • Partner, Launchpad Partners
    See this column by Tom Friedman. Empirical evidence shows that a hopeful message, coupled with honesty, transparency and humility are keys to leadership success. The context is political leadership, but people are people and businesses are, as we all know, political organizations. So the lessons apply.
    • Don Pratt
    • Chmn/Ceo, Western Investments
    The leader must be candid. The organization "knows" what is happening in the market by monitoring order receipts, shipments, and other internal facts. Decisionmaking in a downturn is a weekly process and the organization is expecting leadership to take those actions necessary for the entity to survive. Integrity in communications will be rewarded with candor by the organization as survival initiatives are formulated. Leaders who can maintain profitability thru a downturn will win the trust of the organization.
    • Dr. P.K. Mozumdar
    • Principal, AIMT, Guwahati, INDIA
    Deception may help you to win some tactical advantages at times. But in long run this may boomerang and harm you more. Therefore, the leader that are responsible and their decisions that affect others shall have to be transparent. Even if such approach may look counter effective initially. But one who is true and committed to do well will be winner in the long run.