Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Honesty Is the Best Policy, Hump Day Hmm

Today's Hump Day Hmm asks us to talk about truth, honesty, and lying. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject of honesty, but I truly have always sought to be honest in my life. I have seen how honesty in difficult circumstances can avoid future problems. For this topic, I will tell one such story as an example of how refusing to be dishonest paid off for someone close to me.

A young engineer, early in her career, was given an assignment. She was told to write a report regarding deficiencies in the company, but her boss instructed her to blame all of the problems on the parent company. She knew that plenty of the problems were in her local office and she was torn. Should she write the report as instructed, or should she write what was accurate? Being a female engineer, she already felt like somewhat of an outsider, and between that and being new, it was easy to feel pressure to follow her orders. She then asked advice of her father, and he told her what he would do.

"Write the truth. If you lie now, you're stuck lying for the rest of your time there, and it can follow you even after that. If something goes wrong because they follow your report, they'll blame it on you. If they want you to lie on another report, they can hold this one over your head because you lied the first time. The worst thing they can do to you for being honest is fire you, and they can't afford to fire you for refusing to lie."

She listened, and she followed his advice. Her boss was not pleased, but as her father had assured her, they did not fire her. She has now been with that company through at least one buyout, perhaps two, and they have paid for her to get a masters degree in her field, worked with her through the birth of her two children, and promoted her through the ranks along the way. She has a good name and reputation for hard work and honesty. There's no telling what might have happened if she had lied instead.

I have often looked on that story with a great deal of admiration. I knew it was not an easy choice to ignore a demand to lie, and yet she stood by her ethics. My business is built on honest, ethical practices, and we have a great reputation because of it. I do not believe that businesses have to be deceitful or underhanded to succeed, nor do I believe that of individuals. Some of the most successful men and women I know have gotten where they are because of their keen sense of right and wrong, not in spite of it. So, as I said at the start of my post, I truly believe in honesty, and I strive to encourage my children and my employees to live by that same modus operandi. I would rather pay the price for my mistakes by admitting to them than to have to learn how to lie just to hope to avoid them for a while.

-- Robert


Smartphone said...
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Julie Pippert said...

This is the ethical angle of honesty. I do agree we need to behave ethically. But then we get back to that "but what is ethical?"

I do agree that we should strive towards honesty and truth. But then we get back to that "but what is honest and what is truth?"

It seemed absolute to me that my sexually harassing boss ought to have been booted to the curb. And yet, it was I who was. The truth to the company was "who is more valuable?" not "who is being honest?"

There are so many levels, angles and degrees to it, and so many factors.

But I do see and agree with your point that we all know the basic cultural mores, and we all know basic goodwill and solid ethics, and some things are just that simple, so stick to it.

Robert said...

What you seem to be discussing here is not "truth" but "values". The company valued your boss more than you, and apparently valued his production over their own ethics. Unfortunately, that is not uncommon - that producers' shortcomings get overlooked - but it doesn't affect what is true. It just affects what is important to the company. Truth, again, is an absolute to me. Honesty is, in my opinion, generally correlated with trying to be accurate in representing the spirit of the truth (not just reporting accurate information that misleads). I am not perfect about that aspect of honesty, but I do my best not to misrepresent things. But in the end, my main point is that truth is not something I consider amorphous. I see where you're coming from, though.

jeanie said...

lol - I once had a marketing lecturer advise that, if you were asked to lie make it truly worth your while, because it is far better to be living with a guilty conscience and a large bank account than not - and think of all the blackmail you will be required to shell out!

I quite agree, ethics are very important in many facets of life. I have taken a different approach to yours to the topic.

And Julie - I think that you still followed the truth and are a much greater person for that than for being broken down by your old company. I applaud you. I was once advised if I wanted to get along in a company I would have to learn to drink with the boys - I changed companies soon after.

Melissa said...

I was in similar situations during my "past life" and I was always rewarded for doing the right thing instead of what was sometimes asked of me. It never pays, in the long run anyway, to be dishonest in business.

On another note, how is 5/15 for a VBC?

Suki said...

I guess a clear conscience and a clean record is worth a LOT of things.

Robert said...

Jeanie, that sounds like a line I wrote that I used to use for a signature on emails: you can only sell a good reputation once, and you almost never recoup your investment.

Melissa, that's fine for the VBC so far as I know. We'll be back from CA by then. We may be at the state convention for the Republican Party, if we're not fried after all our travel, but we'll still make your book club. Have you chosen a book yet?

Suki, I would definitely say you are right. Having a clear conscience may not pay the bills, but it sure reduces any need for a therapist bill and some other medical bills besides. Having a reputation for honesty pays a lot more in the long run than having one for being dishonest (pay no attention to the men or women holding office).