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Intellectual Honesty and Leadership

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In leadership coaching and training we often discuss the issue of mixed messages which is the process in which we express ideas, beliefs or values only to behave in a way that contradicts the statements. Our advice to those leaders is to realize that when your messages are mixed, those around you quickly ignore what you say and take their cues from your behaviors.

But those mixed messages create another problem for those leaders and their teams. It becomes a matter of intellectual honesty and the ability of the team to trust the leader.

Let me share a real-life example with you. A new executive tells the team he inherited that he is committed to receiving constructive feedback and needs it to continue to learn and grow. His team felt empowered and encouraged by the potential change in culture it would create. When they began to offer feedback (which they did very constructively and based on facts and personal experience) he became defensive and usually made life miserable for the person for days or even weeks. The team now ignores his on-going statements about his belief in candid feedback and considers those statements disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.

In an effort to repair the damage he had done he then asked a consultant work with him and the team and to act as something as a mediator, coach and counselor. Part of the consultant's assignment was conduct a thorough diagnostic of the team relationships, interview the leader and all team members and provide a written debrief of findings to the leader and the team; the debrief was to be an independent report unaudited by the executive and sent to everyone at the same time.

Shortly after the report was sent the executive sent an e-mail to the team thanking them for their candor, citing the helpfulness of the report and wanting to use the findings and recommendations to move forward. Within minutes of that e-mail he sent the consultant a harshly worded one stating that he disagreed with the findings and recommendations, insisting they were inaccurate, based on incomplete information and put together without his review and screening. At the same time the consultant received e-mails from the entire team thanking him for the accurate insights, candid feedback and expressing their hope that it might lead the executive to some soul-searching and insight.

Intellectual honesty; a valuable trait for leaders and a foundation part of sending consistent messages of words and behaviors.

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