The Value of Honesty


Authenticity and ethical standards hold immense significance in leadership, yet are often challenging to quantify on a corporate financial statement. While assessing the worth of qualities in your hiring criteria, honesty and integrity may not always take precedence. Nevertheless, I urge you to contemplate these virtues as potentially the most crucial elements to consider when evaluating leadership capabilities for your team.

A data technician analyzes data

Throughout my career, I have encountered a myriad of scenarios across various environments and programming languages. In contemplating the value of what I do in the business realm, I have delved into these experiences to craft a value proposition that aligns with my own sense of purpose while adapting to the demands of a dynamic and ever-evolving industry. As I strive to articulate the balance between value and cost, alongside return on investment, I find myself grappling with the recurring themes of honesty and deceit within my personal and professional narrative.

Many of us can recall instances from our past where we fell short of our own standards of honesty and integrity. However, based on my experiences, I have found that the benefits of unvarnished honesty far surpass any temporary gains from withholding difficult truths. Perhaps you can relate to situations where withholding the truth or engaging in deception seemed justified by a misguided sense of integrity or a desire to avoid conflict. We have all likely refrained from addressing someone's excessive drinking at a social gathering to sidestep an uncomfortable discussion or to prioritize harmony over candor. Having personally overcome alcohol addiction, I now recognize the immense value of candid friends in my earlier years. These individuals, though their honesty may have been tough to swallow at times, ultimately spared me from enduring significant consequences later in life. In hindsight, the enduring value of these brutally honest relationships eclipses any transient discomfort those conversations may have caused.

The principle of honesty versus cost has consistently manifested itself throughout my career, particularly in my various business relationships. One of the most impactful instances relates to my interactions with different CEOs and Boards over the years. Early on in my technology journey, I had the honor of collaborating with a CEO who championed brutal honesty and expected the same level of transparency from his team. To this day, that company thrives after more than two decades, with the CEO still serving as a valuable reference for me. The lessons gleaned from that experience continue to shape my approach to training others. While my salary during that period may not have been lucrative in comparison to industry standards, the invaluable long-term benefits it offered my career trajectory were immeasurable.

The recession in 2007 significantly impacted the company's revenue, leading to the realization that my role was no longer financially sustainable. Recognizing the shifting dynamics within the leadership team, I proactively initiated discussions and proposed a transition plan that aligned with everyone's interests. Despite the challenging circumstances that followed, including a year of unemployment and the depletion of savings and retirement funds to support my family, my recollection of that chapter in my career remains a positive one. Together we collaborated on transition plan that saved as much of the integrity of the company and it's employees at great personal cost. Although the outcome was not what any of us desired, the enduring value of the experience transcends its short-term financial implications.

On the flip side, I've collaborated with multiple CEOs who appreciated my candid approach when discussing my role and department's contributions to the company's overarching objectives and projects. However, despite this openness, I found myself perplexed by their reluctance to share long-term plans with me. I can only speculate that their hesitation stemmed from a fear that I might not grasp the implications or could potentially challenge their rationale. However the long-term cost from the perceived deceptive tactics even if they aren't intentional often create a negative cost to the company that is just as difficult to valuate, just as the positive benefit of honesty is. Any loss of loyalty and motivation is difficult to recover from.

From a strictly business standpoint, every scenario ultimately boils down to a discussion about the bottom line. Can the company bear the costs associated with pursuing a particular project or making a new hire? Conversely, can it afford the repercussions of inaction or delay? These fundamental questions underscore the critical decisions that leaders must navigate to ensure the long-term success and sustainability of their organizations.

When considering a new hire for someone in a CTO or IT Director position you should always consider the following:

  • Is the person you are looking for going to remain with your company for the remainder of your or the company's lifetime.
  • Are you going to allow this person to have a say in the company’s future?
  • Do you immediately have a sense of trust in your interactions with this person?
  • Can they have a conversation with you honestly about their best as well as their worst experiences personally and professionally?
  • Do the people they have worked with in teams previously maintain a positive perspective with them?
  • Do they know how to hire and build successful teams?
  • Do the consulting firms they have worked with maintain a positive relationship with them?

If these questions do not provide you a sense that you can work together and be brutally honest with each other and remain close allies for the long term, then keep looking. If you are unwilling to consider someone else’s opinions about the future state of your company and the technology that drives it, and you already have a sense of how and why you want to go in the direction you are heading, then you should consider that the position you’re looking to fill is a perhaps a consulting role and be honest with yourself and your future associates about it.

As a CTO or director my job has always been to hire and grow successful teams and trust them with the execution and daily management of the projects and technologies in our purview. Once these projects are completed the need for my involvement in will diminish over time, if I am doing my job well, and if the company is not looking to expand beyond the short-term requirements. The consideration of my agreement with the company should be known up front. The cost to the company for the frustrations and conflicts within teams when the inevitable transition occurs at the end of the relationship often outweighs the benefits, and everyone is negatively affected by the loss of trust and confidence and the shock of an unplanned or unforeseen divorce. In the end whether you think it's true or not, you have been deceitful with your company if this has been happening, even if it isn't intentional. If this has been a pattern in your near-term experience then either you don't have a brutally honest partner who is helping you to see things clearly, or you are possibly deceiving even yourself.

The benefit of hiring someone as a consultant is that we can evaluate and execute plans that impact things without being personally emotionally influenced by the outcomes. If I do not have a revenue or emotional stake in the success or failure of your company then I can speak honestly when I think you are making mistakes, if you disagree then we have a contract in place with all of its terms and conditions and we can simply end our relationship without any investments being impacted on either side. Like the money spent on therapy the investment causes you to hold yourself accountable for the investment so you show up for the appointments, because they are expensive. The therapist at the same time can simply tell you the brutally honest truth about your situation because they've already been paid and have nothing to loose by telling you when they feel you are making mistakes.

Let’s say that you are a 10-million-dollar annual revenue company and you’re working on an expansion plan that will catapult you to 50 or 100 million over the next couple of years with the right team. You get together with your partners or board and all of you decide that one of the biggest needs for the growth to happen properly is that you need someone with my experience to grow your technology infrastructure from the current single office or home office footprint to an automated secure and compliant corporate infrastructure. Consider first if you will want to invite someone like me to join the company as an executive partner for the remainder of the company’s future. Perhaps it would be more beneficial in the short-term to hire someone like me for 50% or 100% more money, as far as a line item on the balance sheet, as a consultant to fill this role. It’s much easier to transition a consultant to a full-time partner or executive than it is to rebuild the lost trust and confidence after a difficult termination.

Consider the long-term benefits and costs before you consider the short term line item expense. The expense of a full-time employee with insurance and benefits plus the infrastructure requirements of attaching another person to the network that exists, may add up to more than a consulting expense when you consider the residual impacts of a positive or negative emotional experience on both you and your company and the impact it has on your customer facing experience. The value of brutal honesty will always be more than the cost of deception even when that deception is one of pure ignorance. You may not realize until too late that the role you filled is not going to be necessary long-term. just be honest about it. Anyone with enough experience will tell you that the benefit of the honesty even when you can’t put a balance sheet number on it will outweigh any consideration of deception in the long run.

I like this comparison sited for google reviews: "It can take around10 to 20 new 5-star reviews to offset the negative impact of a single 1-star review, assuming you had a predominantly positive rating before the negative review."

The same is true of the positive and negative impacts your hiring and termination policies have on your employee morale, which, if your company is in any way interacting with customers, can have a very dramatic impact on your bottom line as it impacts the moral of the internal community. I have experienced this phenomenon first hand more times than I think I should. One of my personal and company missions is to help identify and treat this scenario by being different, by proceeding forward with caution and by attempting, to the best of my ability, to be brutally honest at all times, with all relationships.