“Leadership today is all about two words: it’s about truth and trust” says Jack Welsh.

Is that it? Really?

For sure, in today’s social media world, untruth will be exposed. It’s only a matter of time.

For sure, where leaders are seen to have manipulated or mishandled the truth, trust is eroded.

For sure, without trust, leaders lose their right to lead, leaders lose legitimacy.

So “What is truth?”, as Pilate famously asked. Nearly 2000 years later, the Chilcot enquiry begged the same question. On almost a daily basis, President Trump re-states the question through constant declarations of ‘fake news’. Surprisingly, or maybe not, the ‘word’ of the year in 2016 was ‘post truth’.

Public leadership demands truth. Not that everything stated by a leader or a member of the public or reported by mainstream media is ‘truth’. There is after all legitimacy in stating a point of view – though it needs to be stated as being distinct from ‘the truth’. Points of view may differ, and this is healthy to avoid group-think. Facts however should not differ. Points of view should be presented as such to be examined carefully, to inform thinking, to increase dialogue and to win worthy consensus.

Leaders have a fiduciary duty to protect ‘the truth’ in the face of multiple agendas and legitimately different points of view, a fiduciary duty to protect people from losing faith in ‘truth’ – in order to enjoy their people’s continuing trust and support.

So, once again, what is ‘truth’?

At its simplest, ‘truth’ is the real facts (as opposed to relative facts). We’re talking here about objective evidenced facts, auditable facts, validated facts. Due care must be given to avoid the temptation to add ‘relative’ (as in ‘relatively’ objective, ‘relatively’ evidenced).

Our commitment to uphold the ‘truth’, the facts, must stand alongside our ability to persuade others. Our sustainable trustworthiness as leaders depends on our ability to uphold the truth. Founded on truth, our businesses, organisations, institutions and nations stand a better chance of succeeding sustainably in their own right and serving the greater good.

Key questions then – for today’s leaders, for today’s people at large:

  1. How do we establish the real facts – the truth – given the speed with which we all are expected to make decisions today?
  2. How do we communicate the real facts – the truth – in a manner that all can understand and relate to?
  3. How do we present our points of view – for these are legitimate and the result of critical thinking – in relation to the real facts and truth, as a perspective on the truth?
  4. How do we give ourselves and others permission to debate our points of view without distorting the real facts, the truth, as established from the start?

It is in this leadership dynamic – of how we engage with real facts, form an informed point of view, share those points of view and encourage inclusive constructive debate – that we grow sustainably as people, as businesses, organisations, institutions and nations.


Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone is a trusted business adviser, a strategy and leadership development expert, a certified executive coach and a Partner at Rathbone Results; Rathbone Results: 020 8798 0175; cora-lynn@rathboneresults.com.

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