The eighth letter of the word leadership is “H” and it stands for honesty. Honesty is the quality of being truthful, sincere and upright in speech and action; it is a major means through which one can inspire and motivate others. The question is: how many people in leadership positions in Nigeria are honest to themselves and their followers?
Everyone has heard of the English proverb, “honesty is the best legacy”. The saying is straight-to-the-point because honesty and truthfulness are the moral foundations of leadership and when they are lacking, a leader is just an empty shell without an iota of credibility.
A legacy is a heritage, bequeathed to the followers or something inherited from a predecessor. According to the preacher and inspirational author, John C. Maxwell, to whom I will soon make additional references, legacy is “a dream that changes not only your life but the lives of all the people it touches”. So if honesty is the best legacy, it means that of all virtues, values and possessions that one can be remembered by, honesty is the best among them, and dishonesty is the worst.
It is better to be honest and be damned and condemned than to be dishonest and be rewarded with money or position. Some people sit on a stolen mandate but nothing lasts forever. The reward of dishonesty for a leader is temporary but time will continue to vindicate the honest leader. A dishonest leader is a disgrace to leadership; no one would trust or respect him.
A leader that thrives on lies and deception is digging his own grave and s/he will be haunted by his lack of character. As I wrote in a Newswatch Times article on January 31, 2014, the bane of our dear country is “character deficiency syndrome”. Therefore, it behooves everyone, students especially, who aspires for leadership positions to imbibe character, especially the quality of honesty, in order to be credible.
John Maxwell further wrote on “the law of solid ground” and noted that for a leader to attain success and gain the trust of his followers, he must have competence, connection and character. Character is the peak and this is what is lacking in many Nigerian leaders. “People will forgive occasional mistakes based on ability, especially if they can see that you’re still growing as a leader. But they won’t trust someone who has slips in character. In that area, even occasional lapses are lethal…” he wrote.
It is noteworthy that to be a leader, a core requirement is character and the engine of character is honesty. Of course, lies and distortions may be told against an honest man to tarnish his image but truth always prevails, no matter how long it takes – years, decades or centuries.
An honest person may be persecuted, the way Prophets and other ideologues were but their legacies remain etched on the stone of time. For example, on Friday May 8, 1840, Thomas Carlyle thought of setting the records straight and chose to speak on a most vilified man in Europe, Muhammad, and the topic he chose was “The Hero as Prophet”. It was his qualities, chief among which was honesty, that inspired the speech.
Carlyle said of Muhammad (PBUH): “A man of truth and fidelity, true in what he did, in what he spake and thought. They noted that he always meant something. A man rather taciturn in speech; silent when there was nothing to be said; but pertinent, wise, sincere when he did speak; always throwing light on the matter. This is the only sort of speech worth speaking!”
No matter the amount of bile and vitriol thrown at an honest leader, honesty itself would stand to vindicate him. If a dishonest man becomes a leader, he is soon headed for trouble. The signs of leaders in trouble, Maxwell further wrote, in his book, “The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader’s Day” are five.
Using the Biblical Samson whose woman, Delilah, was his nemesis, as an example, Maxwell stressed that leaders in trouble are characterised by five major things which we should all be wary of: fail to address glaring character weaknesses, count on deception to safeguard themselves, act impulsively, misuse their God-given gifts and are overcome because of an area of weakness.
You cannot be on a solid ground without being honest. Honesty is the best legacy in this world and every real or potential leader should, therefore, be honest to himself, his God, his followers and his work.