Change Management

A Story About Two Woodcutters

Honesty is the best policy. I suspect most of you have heard this phrase at least once in your life, if not more. The wisdom is at least 2,500 years old – it first appeared as the moral of Aesop’s fable “Mercury and the Woodcutter,” a story about two woodcutters, one honest, the other dishonest, and their encounters with the god Mercury. The lesson was: the honest woodcutter was rewarded for telling Mercury the truth and the other woodcutter lost his ax for fibbing.

Why Aren’t We Honest

Honesty and truth can, on occasion, be hard. Sometimes we don’t tell the truth because we don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. Sometimes we just don’t see the value in being honest: it’s not worth the effort – the person you’re talking to doesn’t want to hear the truth. Other times we don’t feel it’s safe to tell the truth – don’t hurt the messenger. And as is often the case, we don’t know how to discuss the “undiscussables.”

So what does this mean for your organization?

All of these beliefs are responsible for the lack of realism and truth telling in our day-to-day interactions at work. They force people to say what they think others want to hear, rather than what they believe to be true. As a result, we don’t become real in our expectations, in our thinking, or in our interactions. After a while, no one asks for opinions and thoughts because they know they aren’t getting the truth. They basically stop caring what the other person thinks or it becomes merely “lip service.”

Why Honesty is The Best Policy

When this happens within an organization, attempts at achieving “engagement” ends up being nothing more than a charade.  In particular, if people don’t think the leaders are being honest, they aren’t really going to trust them, and if they don’t trust them, decision making, communications, relationships, and results are affected. And the same happens on the flipside, if leaders just think their people are telling them what they want to hear, then they’ll stop asking; clearly not a great scenario.  Nobody wants a repeat of the woodcutter – or an organization for that matter – losing the ax. And that’s the truth!

November 15, 2012