Daily Archives: July 20, 2016

The DNA of Telling the Truth Even When It’s Difficult

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Unlike the torturous battles our leaders faced in the Vietnam POW camps*, most of the battles we face as leaders aren’t physically painful. But the emotional and mental battles to get results may seem equally challenging. Want to know the guiding force that kept my comrades and me unified while the enemy was trying to systematically divide and disable us?

It was the bond brought by our efforts to live up to the Military Code of Conduct, six articles articulated on a single page. Though most of us had memorized this code in our early training, we couldn’t have imagined what a critical role it would later play in our daily lives. When we faced the cruelty of isolation, hunger, torture, and constant threats, this code was a powerful reminder to choose the harder right and serve with honor.

Over the years, I’ve created my personal honor code—a set of articles that helps guide my life and work. Article 1 of my Honor Code is

“Tell the truth even when it’s difficult. Avoid duplicity and deceitful behavior.” [Tweet This]

In its basic form, truth is foundational for science and law. Every day, my consulting organization uses the science of behavioral assessments to determine natural behavior. In less structured day-to-day interactions such as communication, relationships, business development, and others, we know that an absence of truth and common values can lead to confusion, ambiguity, and ultimately poor results.

Most people grow as adults wanting to be known as honorable and trustworthy, even though ironically we naturally learn to lie as young “innocent” children without being taught. After leading and managing people for more than 40 years, I can assure you that lying or misrepresenting the facts is always right beneath the surface. Usually it’s fear or pride that makes it raise its ugly head. Having an awareness of this short list of common “lie generators” will help us build good character into our personal and professional DNA –

  • Fear of Negative Consequences. Consider the many headlines of politicians, businessmen, religious leaders, doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, coaches, pro athletes, media personalities and literally every role in society that lie when caught in a transgression.
  • Fear of Not Looking Good or Good Enough. Insecure people will lie to enhance or protect their image. There has been a lot of talk about this issue in the media recently, but the tendency to stretch or shade the truth is a commonly used protective strategy. The root issue is pride.
  • Fear of Losing. Using lies to promote oneself and smear others has become an accepted tactic in many areas of our society—especially politics. Where is the honor?
  • Ideological Spin. This problem uses a half-truth or lie to advance a cause. Our communist captors boldly declared that, “Truth is that which most benefits the party.” And on that basis, they routinely tortured POWs to sign false propaganda lies.

I’m sure you can think of many other situations where truth is trampled for expediency, but truth is resilient and eventually we reap what we sow.

Regardless of the daily opportunities to misrepresent the truth or lie, we must all remain vigilant and choose the truth to get the best results for us, our teams and our society. [Tweet This]

Here are four things you can do to master Article 1 of the Honor Code –   

  1. Understand your own behavioral strengths and struggles. Know where you’re vulnerable.
  2. Set the example by telling the truth even when it’s hard.
  3. Talk to others about why the truth is so critical to trust and organizational effectiveness.
  4. Bring out the truth to expose those who are telling lies.

Download a free copy of The Honor Code on my website at


*As a young lieutenant, Lee Ellis was shot down while flying a mission in the Vietnam War and was a POW for over five years. You can read more about his story on his publishing website, FreedomStar Media.

30 Years of Behavioral Research and Development

Based on more than 30 years of research and experience in developing leaders, Leadership Behavior DNA™, led by leadership consultant and trainer Lee Ellis, focuses on some of the key behavioral issues of leadership and will help you understand what you do well and highlight areas where more leadership development is needed. Download a sample free report at


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