What the US Presidential Race Can Teach Leaders About Judging Honesty

by Susan Mazza | Posted | Leadership

What the US Presidential Race Can Teach Leaders About Judging Honesty

Honesty, or specifically a lack thereof, is a hot topic that is burning out of control now that we're in the final 100 days of a highly contentious U.S. Presidential race.

Regardless of your political views, the subject of honesty and how you make assessments about honesty is critically important to your leadership. After all, as a leader you'll make daily assessments of people's behavior and character. Ultimately, you'll make decisions about your level of trust in them based on your evaluations of their honesty in their everyday actions.

In the case of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, we have all had many years of opportunities to observe them in action. This gives us a wealth of instances that we can draw upon in making our assessments of their level of honesty. Though in watching people support their candidate and demean the other candidate, one thing has become abundantly clear - an assessment about someone's honesty is based on far more than just the facts.

For the last year, I have been observing lay people (by that I mean people who are not deeply involved in politics or part of the press corps) engage in the escalating debate about why their candidate is "the right choice" and why the other candidate is "the wrong choice". Assessments about honesty are at the heart of this debate because people have lost trust in politicians and the political process.

Leaders and their judgment of honesty

As a leader, it is extremely important to consider how you approach judging the honesty of others because of the weight your "vote" carries with those you lead.

This particular election highlights many of the potential pitfalls in making assessments of someone's honesty that are just as relevant for leaders in organizations as they are to choosing who will get your vote.

Here are 3 potential pitfalls for leaders to consider in making their own assessments about the honesty of the people they lead.

1. Interpretation and opinion often carry more weight than the facts.

This is true for all of us as human beings, so as a leader it is critical to be mindful of your potential to lack objectivity despite the best of intentions. Of course, on the flip side you could say that your interpretations and opinions are a function of your judgment and experience, which is certainly valid as well.

The reality is we are interacting in a sea of interpretation that includes ours, those we lead and those we follow. Remember that the facts are often the only objective common ground you have to draw upon in bringing people together.

The important point for leaders is to make sure you invite others to challenge your opinions and interpretations so you honor the facts and remain as objective as possible in the eyes of those you lead.

2. We expect perfection from those we dislike and allow those we do like to be human.

If you doubt this, consider who you have or would give a second chance to and who you would not. Answer honestly, is likeability a factor?

In the case of the election, attempting to change people's minds is often an exercise in futility because it is very hard for people to be objective with someone they inherently dislike. The natural tendency is to listen for more reasons to back up our like or dislike rather than to listen for what we may be missing.

This is why when making difficult decisions about a person you do not like for any reason, it is important to invite others who have a different view to weigh in so your personal preferences do not overly influence your interpretation of the facts and your choices regarding someone's future.

3. When facts do not match our current version of the truth our natural tendency is to dismiss them as an aberration.

Of course #1 and #2 are essentially the source of your version of the truth about someone. Know that once you have made up your mind about someone you will undoubtedly judge facts in a way that reinforces your perception.

Since no one is perfect, there will undoubtedly be aberrations and it is healthy for everyone to recognize and allow for our humanness. The things to watch out for are failing to see that an aberration has become a trend that needs to be dealt with rather than consciously overlooked, or casting a blanket judgment based on one incident while failing to consider the context and pattern of behavior over time.

Why do these things really matter to you as a leader?

These things matter because there is a real risk of letting our all too human tendencies make assessments of someone's honesty and color our interpretation of facts and behaviors.

Remember that the assessments and decisions you make are continually being judged by those you lead. This will either add to or diminish your credibility as their leader. Your opinions and decisions can also have a profound effect on someone's future for better or for worse, so judging someone's honesty is never to be taken lightly.

You are of course only human and so are those you lead. By being aware of these pitfalls you can elevate your own objectivity and in the process build your credibility as a leader who makes well-grounded, fair assessments and decisions.

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