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Quite a while ago, one of you kind folks out there in reader land took the time to share an important thought with me. After reviewing one of my early leadership commentaries, back in July 2000, this gentleman took the time to drop me a note. He was most generous in his praise of the research that had been done by the members of Harry's Gang, an ad hoc group of people who responded to my call for fire service leadership thinking.
But at the end of his period of praise, he raised a question that I personally found most troubling. Nowhere on the list, he noted, was any mention made of the concept of honesty. The groupthink had covered a wide variety of topics, but had failed to make any mention of honesty, in and of itself. It is just a guess on my part, but I feel that most people thought that integrity was an all-encompassing topic.
There are two ways to look at this. The first would be that we in the group saw honesty as such an obvious part of our leadership persona, and that we must all have presumed that we would simply understand that each of us considered this a given in our world. Or it could be that we just forgot how important that the concept of honesty was to the delivery of effective leadership in the fire service.
It would be my hope that it was the former rather than the latter. Many times during my career in the fire service, it seemed as though truth was a variable commodity. Much like beauty, truth is held hostage to the eye of the beholder, or more correctly the lips of the person uttering his or her version of the truth. Or at the very least the thrust of their concept of what they expect to pass for the truth as it departs from their lips.
I held a discussion on this particular topic with a friend from the world of public school education. I mentioned that I was forced by the limitations of my own brain to stay with the truth. It would seem as though every time I journeyed into the world of creative alterations of the truth, I was caught, as they say, red-handed. When confronted by those in authority with a demand for an instantaneous explanation of my conduct, out would come the truth.
My friend from the educational world agreed with my reasoning for using the truth. She too was a frequent victim of her own honesty. Unfortunately, there are many factions at work in the world that use falsehoods and deception as their stock in trade. Lest you think that I am referring to spies, thugs and thieves, I am not.
I would like to share an important thought with you at this point. During a political battle in 1861, Abraham Lincoln uttered these famous words: "Truth is generally the best vindication against slander." Unfortunately, there are people in the fire service who haven't got a clue as to how to tell the truth. There are a number of versions of the patented organizational falsehood process. Let me share a few that I have identified:
- Tailoring the truth to the person being addressed.
- Tailoring the truth to the audience in front of the speaker at any given time.
- Creating a separate version of the truth for the same person in different circumstances.
- Telling different stories to different members of the same organization.
I could have gone on at length with variations of these. And I am sure that you would be able to share stories that I have not heard. But these seem to be the basic overall schools of thought within the world of the organizational liar. I do not want you to think that I am without sin.
There are a number of whoppers for which I will have to answer when I approach the Pearly Gates for my date with St. Peter. Some of these prevarications were deceitful, while others came upon me suddenly. Some were uttered to the police officer leaning into my car window. Others to the charming Mrs. Carter as to why I was late getting home from the fire station. And still others were told to that charming young lady at the Asbury Park office of the Internal Revenue Service. None of them was right. And let me share with you that rarely did they work. I know they didn't work with that charming IRS lady.