[July 21, 2015] There is an old Chinese short story about honesty and the rich gifts that telling the truth can bring upon us. Many of us, especially leaders, want success so badly that we can be enticed to lie … or perhaps just shade the truth a little. I’ve seen it done so many times by leaders that personally I’m disappointed in their attempts to justify minor dishonesties. I have to admit that these minor dishonesties lead to greater and more frequent dishonesties.
It’s always a bit entertaining to read old proverbs and short stories that bring out the importance of some ethical issue. One of my personal favorites is the old Chinese short story about how telling the truth can bring you great rewards. It goes something like this:
The Emperor of China announced a contest to decide the next heir to the throne. He gave out royal seeds to any boy interested and could show the best results in six months would win the context and wear the crown. There was immense excitement throughout the land and each boy returned home with his royal seed. A boy called Jun, an excellent gardener, did his best to grow the seed but nothing came of it despite his great care for the seed. On the appointed day all the boys came with their beautiful, healthy plants except for Jun who brought his empty pot. The Emperor scowled at Jun and asked “What is this? You brought me an empty pot?” Jun explained he did his best and hung his head in shame. The Emperor proclaimed that Jun would be the next Chinese Emperor because all the royal seeds had been cooked and therefore everyone else had substituted another seed in its place.1
Telling the truth sometimes requires enormous personal courage; like Chinese boy Jun in the story. Telling the truth, honesty, integrity, and openness requires “guts”. Only someone with resilience and patience can really be truthful since it also requires great emotional strength and confidence in one’s self.
Many may have the self confidence but are not strong emotionally. I find this not uncommon in leaders. When I’ve been responsible to hire the best leaders, I look for ways to determine who is honest and who is not; the task is difficult. To me, it is easier to teach the technical details of a job than to teach honesty. Honesty, telling the truth, is something that we learn from the time we are small children. If it is not learned then, the adult will struggle with truthfulness later in life.
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