Stick to telling the truth even when it’s difficult

Unlike the torturous battles our leaders faced in the Vietnam prisoner of war 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. Most of us had memorized this code in our early training, and it 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.”

Truth is foundational for science and law; without absolute truth in these disciplines, we couldn’t maintain or achieve more as a society. Most people grow as adults wanting to be known as honorable and trustworthy. Having an awareness of this short list of common “lie generators” will help us guard our character:

  • Fear of negative consequences. Consider the many headlines of politicians, businessmen, religious leaders, doctors, lawyers, judges, 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. 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 in 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.

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.

Here are three things you can do to master Article 1 of the Honor Code:

  1. Set the example by telling the truth even when it’s hard.
  2. Talk to others about why the truth is so critical to trust and organizational effectiveness.
  3. Bring out the truth to expose those who are telling lies.

Lee Ellis is president of Leadership Freedom LLC and a former Vietnam War POW.