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April 25, 2018

Small Business Advice

Honesty is so important

Jerry Osteryoung | 8/6/2012

"I have found that being honest is the best technique I can use. Right up front, tell people what you're trying to accomplish and what you're willing to sacrifice to accomplish it." ~ Lee Iacocca

There is a story about a retiring CEO who was unsure of whom his replacement would be. He called a meeting of his top aides and said he was going to give the position to the executive who could get the greatest results from a seed he would give them that day, but measure the outcomes in six months. One of the senior managers, Bill, just could not get this seed to grow at all, though he tried so hard with different fertilizers, alternative lighting patterns and all kinds of potting soil. He just did not know what he was going to do.

On the morning before the presentation of the results, Bill was talking to his wife about what should he do. She recommended that honesty was the most important attribute for a chief executive and for him to show the pot with no growth from this seed. Bill was very reluctant to do this.

He decided to follow his wife’s advice and went to the meeting with his empty pot. When he saw the others results, he felt like a failure. Their plants were lush with growth and all were at least 4 feet tall. He was embarrassed not to have any results and thought about just leaving the meeting rather than being embarrassed in front of the entire staff.

At the meeting the CEO asked each of his team members to show him their results and tell him how they had achieved them. Of course, Bill hung back and was the last to show the CEO his pot. “I tried just about everything I could think of, but I just could not get the seed to grow,” he confessed.

With this statement the CEO made the announcement that he decided whom his replacement would be. He said Bill was going to be the next CEO because he was only person who was honest about the seeds. He explained that he had boiled the seeds before hand so that there was no way for them to grow. Bill was only one who was honest.

While this is only a story, it clearly shows the value of honesty. Without honesty there is no trust, since trust is predicated on honesty. Honesty should be the foundation of every enterprise.

As a CEO or manager you have to be incredibly honest to gain the respect of your staff and to ensure that they will be honest with you. I once asked some of my staff if they had to choose me to be honest or nice, but not both, toward them, what would they choose? They all appreciated my being nice, but they really valued my honesty and did not want to give that up.

Now go out and make a commitment to be as honest as you can be to everyone whom you have contact with. I promise you that your life will be much better and your organization will operate with higher levels of efficiency.

You can do this!

Go to Links Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here. Note: Articles older than 30 days require registration (it's quick and free).

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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