As part of our exploration of “telling the truth”, and why it’s often seen as a radical act in organizations, we brainstormed a list of why telling the truth could seem like a bad idea.

Here are our  Top 20 Reasons to Avoid Telling the Truth:

1.     Our relationship might change or crumble if we tell each other the truth

2.     It is uncomfortable and anxiety-producing

3.     I don’t think you need, or deserve, to know the truth

4.     You might not like me if I tell the truth

5.     It would force me to admit I am wrong

6.     I’ve learned people don’t really like to hear the truth

7.     It could put my job or career at risk

8.     Avoiding the truth is a social convention that helps us get along better

9.     The truth could put someone in harm’s way

10.  I don’t want to admit to, or live with, a harsh reality

11.  We might not agree on what “the truth” is

12.  Relationships, organizations and institutions don’t really support truth-telling

13.  Telling the truth would compromise a promise to keep someone’s secret

14.  It might mean I won’t get what I want

15.  Feelings could get bruised (mine or yours)

16.  I want to control you by manipulating the truth

17.  Last time I told the truth, it just got me in trouble

18.  Why should I do it when no one else does?

19.  I don’t think you can handle the truth

20.  The truth is unknowable, so what difference does it make?

What did we miss? Are any of these your favorites?

Next time, we’ll share our Top 20 list of Reasons to Tell the Truth


We have long been fans of the work of the Institute for Global Ethics and its founder, Rush Kidder. He has authored several books, teaches seminars on ethics and has done important research on the common ethical values that exist in almost every society and culture. As subscribers to his newsletter, we enjoy his weekly, topical commentaries and find they often have relevance to our work.

His January 31 commentary talks about talks about followership, an oft-overlooked corollary of leadership. People such as politicians, corporate CEOs, academics, and religious figures may be seen as “leaders” but they won’t be effective unless they attract followers who respect them enough to engage a vision. As Rush points out, the $50 billion leadership industry is thriving, but how is the return on that investment manifesting? Judging from people’s cynicism about many of the world’s foremost leaders (and for that matter, the leaders we work with every day), the dividends aren’t always visible.
One of Rush’s questions in particular got our attention: “Have we so undernourished our sense of followership that [people] equate “we-ness” with weakness?” We have a related question: Are the skills for effective collaboration required to create a preferred shared future being lost in the obsession to look out for No. 1? Kidder argues that ethical leadership must take good followership into account because “if we teach leaders to respect followership only so that they can become even better at controlling others, we’ve missed the point. Followership isn’t a means to somebody else’s end. It’s the essence of community-building.”

This is a concept that is baked into our notion of authentic conversations, which calls for setting aside self-interest in favor of working toward the success of the whole. It means shifting the perspective of “if you win, I lose” (and vice versa) to an understanding that cooperation and collaboration help us maximize the success and well-being of all.

The notion of effective leadership shifts from getting others to do things your way to encouraging people to coalesce around a greater, defined purpose. It means that people share values and a vision for a preferred future and work together to develop the roadmap and necessary tools for getting there. In that sense, we are all leaders and followers.

Authenticity demands forgoing to the manipulation of others to serve our selfish interests and instead engaging each other transparently and with goodwill. As our friend Ira Chaleff writes in his wonderful book The Courageous Follower, followers don’t orbit around a leader — leaders and followers both orbit around purpose.


Written by Maren and Jamie Showkeir

Owners of henning-showkeir & associates, inc., and co-authors of Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment.


David Sokol, a top Berkshire Hathaway executive who once was speculated to be Warren Buffett’s next-in-line, resigned under a cloud when it was revealed he purchased $10 million worth of Lubrizol stock a day after he set in motion a merger with Berkshire.  The company’s acquisition of Lubrizol for $9 billion increased Sokol’s holding by $3 million. Although Buffett initially defended Sokol, at a shareholder’s meeting on April 30, he called Sokol’s actions “inexcusable” and “incomprehensible.”


What got our attention about this coverage was the nattering in a New York Times article on April 23, which quoted a series of experts who wondered whether Buffett’s management style is too “hands off.” It cites a paper from Stanford University's Graduate School of business: "Did Sokol’s actions reveal shortcomings in the company’s governance system that need to be addressed?” We think it's the wrong question, and illuminates the thinking that has created and fostered the entrenched parent-child cultures that are so damaging to organizations.


This is fed by the mythology that one person can be in charge of another's accountability. If Sokol’s actions were unethical (as most agree they were), why speculate about whether Buffett’s hands-off management style is to blame? The fact is, a trusted leader made a choice to behave in an unethical way. Unless Buffett was actively encouraging an unethical culture, why castigate his management style? Would a more stringent management style have prevented that from happening? Maybe. And maybe not: All kinds of abuses and unethical behavior can and have emerged in hierarchical, strictly controlled business environments.


Buffett also announced at the shareholder meeting that he had no plans to become a “stricter parent” in the wake of Sokol’s resignation. It would be a shame if he had. Many people have extolled the generally ethical environment at Berkshire Hathaway. As Berkshire’s vice chairman, Charles Munger, pointed out, “We’ve had a close brush with scandal two times in 50 years. We’re not going to devote a lot of time to this.”


Buffett’s business philosophy, as outlined in a recent Vanity Fair article, has long been to let the leaders of Berkshire Hathaway’s subsidiaries run things as they think best, based on their experience and expertise. The company is decentralized and the responsibility for operations rests solely in the hands of local managers. And this clearly hasn’t inhibited Berkshire Hathaway’s success.


Can promoting this kind of management freedom result in abuses and bad choices? Of course! (And it also presents opportunities to learn from the fallout.) But when a smart, experienced adult chooses to behave in an ethically questionable way, the blame should land squarely on the person who made the choice, not on the boss for being a “bad parent.”


Here’s another reason to choose for hope and optimism, even in the face of disappointing circumstances: Optimistic people are more likely to live longer, healthier lives, according to several research studies. A recent blog written by David R. Hamilton, who has a PhD in organic chemistry, cites studies done at Yale University, the Mayo Clinic and Carnegie Mellon University that show significant health benefits or longevity associated with people’s positive outlooks on life.

“When something doesn't quite go to plan, a person with a positive attitude might just deal with it, typically refocus, or even look for another solution,” Hamilton writes. “But a person with a negative attitude will typically complain more, get angry or frustrated, and they will expend a lot of energy going over and over in their heads what has happened and how much it is a real inconvenience for them. Inside the body, the difference between the two people is stress.”

He suggests a few ways to transform the negative to positive: Count your blessings, make “molehills out of mountains” and go on a complaint fast.

We have a suggestion, too: Recognize that how we react to circumstances is a choice, completely within our control. No matter how disappointing, frustrating or aggravating the circumstances we face, we can always choose how to face them. One of the things we advocate in Authentic Conversations is communicating in a way that makes these choices visible.

It’s not a far-fetched, New Age hocus-pocus theory. It’s based on the work of Dr. Viktor Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, an account of his time in the Nazi concentration camps. As a psychiatrist who was assigned to work as a doctor in the camps, he describes the sordid and dehumanizing environment he and his fellow prisoners faced every day. Some chose hope of a better future (including him), and were more likely to survive, according to Frankl.

Make a choice for optimism in the face of disappointment. Then have conversations about the fact you’ve made the choice and how you tend to live that choice out. You can even point out, with good will, that others can make a similar choice.  Along with the immediate benefits of making your intentions transparent and creating stronger relationships, you’ll be increasing the odds of a long and healthy life.