teamwork and honesty

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To a lot of us, honesty isn’t about bare transparency, but is more about upholding trust and engaging in open communication, Lester Tan believes.

It never hit me how much I appreciated the old adage “honesty is the best policy” at the workplace, until recently. I witnessed the difference in terms of work ethics, culture, and efficiency between a leader who fills every nook and cranny of my mind with information, and another who withholds information consistently.

Under which leadership did we perform better? I’ll spare you the details. Because the point of this piece isn’t to tell leaders like yourself which model works best at the workplace, but to share with you honestly which model your employees might appreciate most, and why.

For me personally, I’d opt for the former any day, and here’s why.

#1 Trust takes two

It goes without saying: leaders appreciate their talent to be bold, to go the extra mile, and to put themselves on the line in achieving business goals. And all of this is underpinned by one thing: trust.

Trust, however, is symbiotic. Leaders, equally, have to assure their talent that they are, in all honesty, doing the same.

Take a real-life example: when the pandemic struck Singapore in 2020, no business was spared. Advertising dollars disappeared; revenues plummeted.

In hopes of helping businesses tide through the rough season, many organisations announced temporary salary cuts, in addition to other cost-saving measures such as reducing non-essential headcount and taking away office frills.

This period was an opportunity for leaders to take the bull by its horns and really share the business reality with the workforce. Those who addressed the situation for what it really was – a test of business survival – would certainly have had a happier workforce waiting to serve business recovery on the other side of the pandemic, versus those who simply announced pay cuts as the new business strategy.

As employees, we understand that there are times when leaders cannot be 100% transparent, but we believe that leaders can still be honest, which isn’t quite the same thing. What we’re asking for isn’t for our leaders to take a pay-cut, but to be honest enough to share what’s being done, and what hasn’t—and the reason behind those decisions, especially during a crisis.

“The worst part of being honest is when the information shared is not accurate. This will create confusion and distrust,” says Joyce Wong, SEA Regional HR Director, International SOS.

#2 Silence kills, noise helps

During the 1980s, NASA conducted a study on aircraft accidents, in which it was found that many mishaps could’ve been avoided if there had been more open communication between pilots and crew members. Who would’ve thought human error in the form of silence could have been so detrimental?

Fast forward to 2021, my team leader loves to over-communicate. Throughout my interview, onboarding, and my tenure, she has shared real data and figures on the company’s performance during the pandemic, and exactly what has helped tide us through.

On a regular day, she asks for help, feedback, and ideas from her team, over and above to her managerial advisors.

Derrick Chang, CEO, PSB Academy, shares: “While [honesty] could potentially exude vulnerability, it could also be a launchpad for a great working relationship where all employees are able to communicate with each other openly and effectively and collaborate in solving challenges.”

Chang hits the nail on the head. Because by asking for thoughts and opinions, my leader has encouraged her talents, across the ranks, to do the same: communicate, present contrarian ideas, and challenge orthodox beliefs.

One thing, however, mustn’t be forgotten. “Honesty is a two-way street. As much as one is prepared to give honest opinions or feedback, one must also be prepared to receive them with an open heart,” Goh Jong-Aik, Senior MD, Soitec, reminds us.

#3 Growth and progress

By creating and engaging in this culture of honesty, leaders are, in essence, opening themselves up to challenges from their talents left, right, and center (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

With challenge, leaders will more often than not witness faster progress which, in this case I believe, would come in three ways.

One, progress in your leadership because you’re tested to sharpen your thinking, and be the best leader you can be in what the circumstances call for.

Two, progress in your talent’s ability because they are playing the devil’s advocate while avoiding groupthink and being your cadre of yes-men and women. And three, progress in your business because with disagreement comes recalibration; and with recalibration, comes an opportunity for innovation and growth which you, your business, and talents will be reaping the benefits through higher efficiency and happiness.

Chang attests to this, he said: “I always encourage my employees to share knowledge and communicate openly with the rest of us, so that we can together tackle any challenge, and provide innovative solutions to any issue.”

With that, allow me to end with this quote from former corporate leader Ginger L. Graham.

In April 2002, she wrote in Harvard Business Review: “Only by arming ourselves with the truth, I felt, by owning up to it, and by acting according to it, could deep-rooted problems be identified, understood, and ultimately solved.”

So there you have it – an employee’s perspective on what we value in our leaders at the workplace.


Keep a lookout for this column in our upcoming Q3 edition of the e-mag! In this edition, you can also look forward to a range of enriching interviews with leaders across APAC - from UOB, Shopee, Syngenta, and more.

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