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Open and honest - if you say you are, you’d better be!

Flashback: First published 2 May 2007

There’s a lot of comment about so-called ‘openness’. Frankly, I don’t buy most of the hype. You either do it or you don’t. If you don’t deep-down do ‘openness’ and ‘honesty’, you’d be better off not claiming otherwise - you’ll be reviled the minute you show your true colours. Openness and honesty have to come from deep-seated personal values that are lived and demonstrated.

Here are some thoughts :
  • People respect circumspection when it’s done ethically and consistently.
  • ‘Engage brain before opening mouth.’ Tact, diplomacy and good manners have a place in the world. You can state a criticism or a contrary view or express disappointment and frustration, without causing offence or compromising yourself. (I admit I find frustration challenging, and it shows!) Likewise, try to respect and protect other people’s dignity, especially in trying circumstances.
  • ‘Neither confirm nor deny’ - a useful line in certain areas, but be consistent right from the start. If you squash a rumour when there’s nothing to it, and then say ‘I don’t comment on rumour’ to avoid the question when there is, everyone knows.
  • Openness and honesty are two values deeply important to me, so when there are some things I can’t tell people, or least not yet (e.g. commercial or individual privacy, public financial disclosure, etc), I’m honest about it. My promise to people is ‘I won’t lie to you; I’ll tell you as much as I can, when I can; but I can’t tell you everything’.
Every CEO gets a nickname and I’ve had some good ones and some bad ones, like ‘Chainsaw’ (I’ve done a lot of restructuring and company turnarounds). Do you know the one I’m most proud of? When I was CEO of power company Electra, having laid off a third of the staff, radically restructured our various businesses, and outsourced a lot of in-house work, the linecrews in our Linework subsidiary (a very earthy bunch) dubbed me ‘No-shit Jim‘. It was a sign of respect, one which I appreciated deeply and one which, albeit imperfectly, I have tried to live up to.