On Honesty

One of the funny things about geeks is that they can be rather un-trusting people. Perhaps they don’t trust those who are not geeks themselves. Perhaps they’ve been lied to many times in the past. Perhaps they think stupidity = dishonesty. Perhaps they’ve actually worked in the business world.

Well, that last one is my cynicism coming through. But seriously, how many times are geeks lied to during the day?

Geek: Did you make sure your computer is plugged in?

User: Yes! Of course! Do you think I’m an idiot?

Geek goes to desk; computer not plugged in.

Personally, I’ve always valued my own honesty. For example, one conversation from early in my career:

User: Jenn, it was amazing how fast you got the network back up!

Jenn: Thank you; but it might have been better had I not crashed it in the first place.

This honesty often surprised my bosses, co-workers, and staff. If I had information that I could not share with my staff for business/HR/other dumb reasons, I’d say, “Well, I do know something, but I’ve been asked not to tell you. I know it’s annoying, but please trust me that I’ll tell you as soon as I can.”

I encouraged this honesty in my staff. Yes, we might have been better able to get users to do what we asked them to do if we made the consequences sound more dire, but that wouldn’t be honest, so I wouldn’t allow it. Unless it was funny. I mean, if we could tell them they’d be eaten by wolves if they didn’t reboot, I would have sanctioned it. Because hyperbole is a literary tool, and they would obviously recognize it as a joke. Also? I can’t figure out where to get hungry wolves in Boston.

The results of my honesty surprised me. Anyone who ever worked for me trusted me, even if I had to terminate their employment. One person to whom I had to do this said (when I assured him it wasn’t personal), “Jenn, I absolutely trust you when you say that.” It was mind-blowing to me at the time. After all, honesty is just part of who I am.

As a result of my experience, I have to say that one very good way to be a leader of geeks? Be trustworthy. The results will amaze you.