Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is [credited] only for a moment. – Proverbs 12:19 AMP
I developed a leadership program that I am so passionate about to address the cornerstone value of truth for true leadership. Perhaps I should refer to it (truth) as the foundation of true leadership. I have often wondered if leadership has any value to people if it is not based on truth. If we consider that leadership is characterized essentially as a relationship between a leader and a follower, what meaning, or value can the leader offer to the follower without establishing truth as the foundation for such a relationship? In my view, nothing!
Leadership that is not premised on, and ruled entirely by truth is dangerous, destructive, and unfortunate on the part of the leader who serves it.
Yet there are many leaders who shy away from the truth while there are others who do not even know the truth that is relevant for carrying out their responsibilities. Some leaders shy away from the truth because their people find the truth a bitter pill to swallow, and they would rather jettison or modify the truth than risk losing the support of their people. Such leaders love their exalted positions (and perhaps authority and power) too much to allow mere ‘truth’ to undermine them.
You may find that surprising, but it is a reality. In fact, you may recall occasions, where you have had to shift ground yourself on a decision or position you took that, did not go down well with your people. You knew your position was the right thing to do in the circumstance, but it was difficult for your people to understand and submit to. And you chose to modify your stance to make the decision more ‘digestible’ for your people. Well, in that case, you also swayed from the truth.
As I stated above, it is equally true that some leaders do not even know the truth! In this wise, the more relevant example is the truth that underpins their approach to leadership or leadership style. As much as we would like to describe leadership as an art, we must acknowledge that there are key principles (truths) that every leader must respect if they are serious about serving the true purpose of leadership. Leadership involves a relationship like any other, and the effective management of the relationship must be based on truths, many of which have been upheld for thousands of years.
The idea behind my leadership program, called the CLASS OF 12, was to significantly boost leadership competence by sharing Leading truths for leadership success. It is not a class for the faint-hearted. It is for those who aren’t afraid to confront the truth, embrace it, take advantage of it, and get the leadership results that truly matter by it.
And you may have guessed that it is not likely to be the most popular program among leaders, whether aspiring or experienced. That is because of the statement that affirms that ‘truth is bitter.’ The part that is often ignored is that the result produced by adherence to the truth is ‘sweet.’ The end justifies the means.
The imperative of truth for effective leadership
At some point during the journey of Jesus with his people, He shared a profound truth that most of them found very difficult to accept. They said it was a “hard saying” and wondered who could accept it. The truth was simply that His leadership was too essential to their lives and future to be handled with levity. However, while noting their complaint and discomfort with His submission, He asked if they were ‘offended by the truth.’
The result of that interaction was that those fellows voted with their feet. They stopped following the leader. They could not accept the so-called truth and they exercised their right to stop following their leader.
You would think that the leader would be perturbed or disoriented by such an act of rejection. It could even be interpreted by some people as a ‘vote of no confidence.’ He was not. Instead, He turned to the few people who were yet to leave and asked if they also wanted to go. He did not ask if they wanted to stay! I found that to be very profound. He was not pleading or begging for His followers, the basis for His leadership, to stay. He was not after self-preservation. He did not express desperation for followers. He was decidedly and unrepentantly in favour of the truth and did not mind if holding on to it cost him his entire team.
That’s a very tough stance to take.
Well, the 12 people who remained were the core group, those He originally chose to constitute the team. They affirmed their decision to stay with Him and reaffirmed their trust in His leadership.
To be sure, this core group also considered the truth in question to be ‘hard.’ They just understood that it was stated to help them develop and not to punish them. There was no question that the truth was ‘bitter’ in their mouths as well, but they knew that it was their route to a better future.
Let us take note of the following about the leader’s stance.
He was not ready to lead if He could not insist on the truth. He did not want anyone to follow him who wasn’t ready to submit to the truth that He traded. He understood that leadership would be meaningless without the truth. There was really no point working with a group of people who failed and refused to submit to the truth.
He could not achieve the transformation that His leadership offered the lives of his people without the foundation of truth in place.
His stance appeared harsh but it was just what it was – insisting on the truth is paramount!
That is the making of true leaders.
“What is truth?”
When Jesus was arrested and brought before Pontius Pilate, He was asked to declare His identity. He told Pilate that He came to bear witness to the truth!
Pilate retorted by asking, “what is truth?”
Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all. – John 18:37-38 NKJV
Here was a man accused of all manner of things and all He had to say was that His mission was to bear witness to the truth.
Perhaps Pilate felt that was too general a statement to make as a defense. He could not understand it. And the accused did not make any effort to expatiate his statement. He understood exactly what He had said.
So, what is truth?
This was the question from Pilate, a governor and foremost leader of his time. I believe he was challenged by that statement and confused at the same time. He knew that the statement made by the accused was deliberate and had a deeper meaning. I believe that it challenged him to think of his approach to leadership also.
Well, Pilate sure had the opportunity to answer his question himself, and in very clear terms for that matter.
He had a case brought before him. A man was being accused of committing several crimes. It was his responsibility to ascertain whether the accusations were true or false. He had a responsibility to determine the truth, and indeed, to uphold it. The truth could be that the accusations were proven, or they weren’t. It seemed rather simple.
And it was well within Pilate’s ability to establish the truth.
So, ‘truth’ is establishing what was right in the circumstance.
Whenever a leader upholds what is established as right, she is witnessing to the truth!
That was what the leader, Jesus, claimed to be His mission, and all He stood for. It was His cornerstone principle, one that He refused to trade off when He was challenged and rebuffed by most of His people.
The Pontius-Pilate phenomenon of truth
But what did Pilate do in this circumstance?
He revealed the weakness of many leaders, and by so doing further underscored the importance of upholding truth as the foundation for quality leadership.
Pilate could not establish the veracity of the various accusations that were brought against Jesus. He found the testimonies of the witnesses to contradict. He discovered that envy was the motivation of the Pharisees, who had lost relevance as the leaders of their day. It was clear to him that the accusations could not be substantiated, and he agreed that they were false.
To make matters worse, his wife also warned him not to convict an innocent man. She had given the warning following an encounter she had in a dream.
So, Pilate established the ‘truth’ in the circumstance. He knew that Jesus had no case to answer. He knew that they had no business bringing Him before him. The right thing to do was to release him with immediate effect. And He had the power to do that without needing to consult anybody, not even Tiberius, the Emperor.
But that was not the position that Pilate upheld.
Although he told the accusers that they had no case as their accusations could not stick, they kept demanding that the accuser be killed. They simply wanted to have their way, to have their own purpose served, to preserve their relevance, and to get rid of the one whom they considered an impostor.
Trading truth for popular acceptance
Pilate upheld their wish and jettisoned the ‘truth’ that he had so clearly established. He even went to the extent of ‘washing his hands’ off the case and insisting that the consequences of the injustice would not be upon him.
He knew the truth but failed to uphold it. He chose to allow falsehood to prevail and presided over fostering injustice on an innocent man.
He was comfortable with an innocent man dying if his seat was preserved and he had signified his innocence.
He was not ready to stand for the truth. He wasn’t that kind of leader. He was chicken-hearted as far as the truth was concerned. He could not have insisted on the truth, perhaps for fear that the people would take the matter up to the Emperor in line with their threat.
Pilate had the opportunity to answer his own question, “What is truth?” In fact, the question was answered in the case before him, but he wasn’t conscious enough to realize it. He also showed that he was a different kind of leader, precisely the opposite of the leader who was on trial before him.
While the leader on trial was committed to truth as the foundation of His leadership, Pilate had no issues submitting to the dictates of his followers. He did not want to get his people upset and certainly wasn’t willing to allow an uprising calling for his removal.
What kind of leader are you?
The truth isn’t as difficult to understand after all.
From the example discussed above, it is easy to appreciate. This is one perspective of what the truth stands for though. We will examine other perspectives in a follow-up article.
Are you the Pilate kind of leader? Do you establish the truth and shy away from upholding it? Do you have more respect for the desires of your people than for the truth? Would you rather your people have their way while you just have your say? Are you comfortable allowing the death of an innocent person just because of the ulterior motives of your people?
What do you imagine the people will learn from what Pilate did? They knew as well that their accusations were false, and that the accused was innocent. They had learned that they could always have their way with falsehood. They learned further from Pilate that it was okay to pursue self-preservation as a leader instead of selflessness.
They saw the hypocrisy of Pilate expressed in the washing of his hands off a case in which he had clearly established the truth, and the accusers also knew the truth. They learned that it was okay to be hypocritical as a leader.
They learned that truth was meaningless with leadership!
There are Pilate-type leaders in existence today, practicing hypocritical Pilate-style leadership. They know the truth, but they do not uphold it. They are too scared of losing their seats to insist on the truth. They are not smart leaders.
They are uncomfortable with any rebellious attitude from their followers. They will rather ensure that their followers have their way and are happy while they keep enjoying their leadership privileges. Truth can always be sacrificed to pacify their people.
These leaders cannot hold their own. They cannot hang on to the truth, even if it means that they lose their leadership role. They do not understand the place of truth in their quest to nurture true leaders. In fact, they are not really interested in nurturing their people into leaders. They are self-centered.
Truth is fallen in the streets!
Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; For truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.  So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Then the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. – Isaiah 59:14-15 NKJV
It is predictable what kind of leaders the likes of Pilate will produce as successors. They will be leaders without character. Such situations are described as “truth is fallen in the street.” It refers to situations where the leaders are unable to uphold truth and shy away from it despite knowing it’s the right path to follow while opting for falsehood because of pecuniary interests.
What kind of leadership is that? Indeed, what is leadership if it is not based on the truth?
What every leader must note is that the situation that Pilate faced is common. Leaders will be confronted with similar situations. His choice and conduct may be criticized by the average person today. However, we also can fall into the same trap of trading off the truth for falsehood.
If we are not mindful of our interests, that can happen. If our understanding of our leadership role is not deep enough, we can be swept away by the same trap. Also, if we lack character, it will be easy to jettison the truth to serve other interests. If we lack the knowledge of the truths about leadership, we cannot be confident in our ability to walk the path of truth always. There are many other reasons why we may ‘mouth’ our commitment to the truth but fail to live it out in our day-to-day conduct.
I do still believe that this is a crucial matter and leaders ought to reinforce their ability to stand on and by the truth always in the conduct of their leadership assignment.
From time to time, it is a good idea to reinforce your commitment to the truth as a leader and to ensure that this all-important foundation is still in place and in great condition.
Remember, if the foundation is destroyed, what can the righteous do? That’s the truth from Psalm 11:3.
If you cannot determine the truth, and uphold it, your leadership efforts will amount to nothing.
Instead of producing great leaders to benefit society, you would have produced dangerous leaders to further derail its progress.
Let us rededicate ourselves to leading by the truth and let us not shy away from taking the relevant steps to ensure that we stay strong on this path all our days as leaders.
Will you opt for the way of truth in your leadership henceforth?
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PSS: Please feel free to share this Newsletter with others who can benefit from the subject matter. Thanks for being a blessing to others. You can reach out to Dr. Olatunji Sobodu (Founder & CEO, EMET LEADERSHIP ACADEMY) using the phone and email details provided in the signature. Dr. Sobodu is available for speaking engagements about leadership and also the provision of executive leadership coaching and mentoring, including helping to develop leadership competence that you may require personally or for your organization.