Honesty in business is in desperately short supply.
Businesses topple due to dishonesty. Financial fortunes are compromised due to dishonesty. Business relationships are fractured due to dishonesty.
We know what the problem is. Consulting companies coach businesses on how to become more ethical and honest. Business schools introduce classes on business ethics and honesty to reduce the viral dishonesty that rocks businesses and organizations.
Much of business suffers from epidemic dishonesty. Dishonesty can ruin both businesses and individuals, producing a mess that takes generations to recover from. In this article, I want to provide a serious warning about dishonesty — how it holds you back in business — and recommend the antidote.
What is dishonesty?
Dishonesty is any assertion of falsehood. It takes many forms and manifestations.
Often, this breach of ethics happens on an organization-wide scale, where an entire business promotes, supports or condones coverups, falsification, or fact-twisting. More often, dishonesty is simply personal misrepresentation. It includes outright lies, skewing of facts, and failure to communicate truth.
From ancient times until today honesty has been upheld as a virtue, and dishonesty widely considered as a negative character quality. The Ten Commandments of Judeo-Christian heritage gives prime importance to the place of honesty with its well-known statement, “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16).
Regardless of one’s religious preferences or cultural background, we all know innately that dishonesty is wrong.
It’s time to exercise business ethics that align with our values.
The Tragedy of Dishonesty
Dishonesty results in disaster. At times, such disaster can be averted. Sometimes, dishonesty causes only small ripples. But dishonesty always has some level of collateral damage — an unfulfilled life, high levels of stress, and never being able to attain satisfaction.
When the dishonesty does become known, it has ever-widening circles of effects — family members, business associates, the general public. Many people hear of and suffer from one person’s dishonesty.
Here are some of the tragic effects of dishonesty.
1. Dishonesty creates a false persona.
The whole idea behind dishonesty is making yourself out to be someone you’re not.
Trying to live out this nonexistent persona is extremely difficult. It can create severe personal anxiety, psychological problems, and a general sense of mistrust. People have a hard time trusting those who seem artificial.
The Bible draws a clear connection between honesty and wellbeing, in this statement from 1 Peter 3:12-12:
Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.
If you want to “love life” and “see good days,” you are required to be honest. A false identity leads to alienation from friends and loved ones. Eventually, a life of falsehood, alienates you from yourself.
2. Dishonesty leads to complexity.
Lies beget lies. In order to validate a lie that you told, you have to tell another lie. In order to make that lie seem feasible, you have to tell two more lies. In order to make those lies seem believable, you have to tell even more lies.
Such webs of deception are totally unmanageable, no matter how smart you are. In the realm of business, things get unwieldy fast. From paper trails to email threads, it’s impossible to validate all your falsehoods and corroborate all your lies.
If you want to plunge your life into a spiral of dark complexity and inextricable terror, then dishonesty will take you there.
3. Dishonesty can destroy a business.
Edson Spencer, the former chairman of Honeywell Inc., said this,
The businessman who straddles a fine line between what is right and what is expedient should remember that it takes years to build a good business reputation, but one false move can destroy that reputation overnight.”
He’s right. Expediency — the easy white lies, shortcuts, and ethical lapses — these will jeopardize a business. The structure of an organization depends on its integrity. Once that integrity is gone, the structure is destroyed.
A business is ruined when public perception turns agains them. Their stocks fail, their customers leave, their partners discontinue the relationships, and the employees resign.
In a survey of the general public, Wirthline Worldwide, a research firm, made the following discoveries:
- 80% of people make a decision to purchase goods or services from a company, based on that company’s ethicality.
- 7$% of people make a decision to buy a company’s stocks based on that company’s ethicality.
When a company loses its ethics, it loses its entire basis of operations.
4. Dishonesty ruins your reputation.
It’s not a question of if your dishonesty will be discovered. It’s a matter of when. And when it is discovered, it will destroy you.
The books of business history are littered with the remains of companies like Worldcom and Enron whose leaders chose dishonesty. Rather than building a business empire with sound practices and strong ethics, they turned their companies into global laughingstocks, plunged millions into financial ruin, and ended up serving prison time for their lack of ethics.
Needless to say, their reputations are pretty much trashed. In the Bible’s book of wisdom, Proverbs, the ancient king Solomon renowned for his wisdom made this observation:
The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. (Proverbs 11:3)
Experience and inspiration showed him that integrity leads to a life of guidance and control. But “crookedness,” or lack of integrity, creates destruction. It doesn’t take a theologian to acknowledge the truth of that statement.
It's hard to recover from a ruined reputation
The Antidote to Dishonesty
The antidote to dishonesty, of course, is honesty.
But honesty is easier said than done. In order to truly live a life of integrity, we need to have a firm belief that honesty is indeed the best policy. This belief must go beyond platitude and truism, and become part of the fabric of our character.
Most business leaders realize, often in retrospect, that honesty should be the guiding principle of their business practice. Jordan Belfort, the notorious Wolf of Wall Street, lived a dream or riches that was founded upon dishonest business. After the house of cards came crashing down, after he lost it all, after he ended up in a federal prison, he wrote this:
What I sincerely hope is that my life serves as a cautionary tale to the rich and poor alike.
He was rich. He had yachts, mistresses, Ferraris, mansions, servants, and everything else that he wanted. But in the end, he simply wanted his life to be a huge caution sign.
Alan Horn, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, in a recent interview with Bloomberg offered these six words as a summary of his ethic: “Never lie to anyone about anything.”
Honesty must be a rooted ethic, something that advises us every time we open our mouths, turn on our computers, 0r make a decision. True success comes to the honest.