In 1987, Kouzes and Posner did some extensive research in preparation for their book entitled The Leadership Challenge. In this research they asked what characteristics people find most admirable in leaders. There were only four traits which received over 50% of votes: honest, 87%; inspiring, 68%; competent, 58%; forward-looking, 71%. Other research has also shown honesty to be the runaway winner and the most valued characteristic in a leader.
People can intuitively sense honesty and authenticity. It’s a matter of being “real.” This “realness” breeds a culture full of grace, truth, common purpose.
The Johari Window gives a nice picture for how honesty and feedback can grow in a person or culture. Each of us posesses qualities which are either public (top-left), private (bottom-left), blind (top-right), or unknown (bottom-right). The public window pane contains things about me which are know to myself and others. The blind window pane contains things others know about me, but which I don’t know about myself. It’s sort of the “spinach in the tooth” or “bad breath” window. The private window pane represents things I know about myself but which others don’t. These are the skeletons in the closet. The unknown window pane represents things about me that neither I nor others are aware of.
The very simple thought is that honesty and openness to the input of others are pathways to authenticity…which is a powerful thing. It’s the growth of character. It’s common sense really, but it can be easy to forget and hard to practice.