What is the one quality that followers say they most want in their leaders? Research has shown that number one quality followers want is honesty. This characteristic manifests itself in how credible and trustworthy a leader is in how he or she conducts themselves on a day-to-day basis. It speaks through their everyday actions and words. They must model the way, set the example and lead by doing.
Honesty is also about ethics and shared values. It’s about being forthright about mistakes and taking the blame when necessary. We tend to forgive leaders their mistakes if they are truthful and own up to their errors. But they must be sincere, contrite and apologetic. When they do that, the mistakes seem to quickly retreat from the press and the minds of followers.
A great example was years ago when there was the infamous “Tylenol Scare.” If you recall, Tylenol pain reliever had been somehow tampered with. It poisoned several people who later died. The leaders of the parent company Johnson & Johnson immediately came forward and said, “We don’t know how or why this happened, but we are recalling every single bottle of Tylenol until we can be assured no one else is in danger.” The leadership was praised for their actions. In the end it proved to be an outside person tampering with Tylenol. The company’s swift efforts protected people and resulted in safer containers industry-wide.
When a leader does the opposite and denies knowledge of a mistake and then facts emerge that say otherwise, we tend to be more critical and unforgiving. We see this happen often with politicians and celebrities because those situations end up with lots of press coverage.
The most recent example in all the news is “Deflategate.” Tom Brady and the Patriots denied any involvement with underinflated footballs discovered during the NFL playoffs that helped them win the Super Bowl. Later, an investigation by the NFL proved otherwise, tarnishing Brady’s and the team’s reputation.
A strong leader would have been more forthright about his involvement and the public and others would be more forgiving. It would have been in the news, but ever so briefly and then fade into memory. Likely to the investigation and penalties would likely have been less severe.
If you are in a leadership role whether in an official and appointed capacity or just as a role model for others, remember that your character is heavily dependent on credibility. Honesty and trust are the foundations of true leadership.