Linda Fisher Thornton
Building on last week’s post on Seeing the Edges of Facts, this week I’m looking at the dangers of ‘partial facts’. When I say “partial facts”, I mean seeing one perspective on an issue (which is only part of the picture) as the complete truth. I’ve seen it happen so many times and it’s time to call it what it is – unethical.
“Being honest is not just telling the truth and avoiding deception; it demands from leaders maximum openness and a complete, accurate and sufficiently detailed description of reality.’
Management principles, 5.4 Ethics at the organizational level, Rice University, openstax.org
Presenting part of the truth as the whole picture is often done for self-serving reasons to:
- Evoke emotions and
- Induce people to act unethically or illegally and
- Cultivate loyalty to untruth (we all believe it, we’re united around it)
Let’s talk about lying for a moment. There are “little white lies” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings (which can be considered an ethical goal). A blatant lie is when something is passed off as true when it has been proven false. There is the lie of omission, where we omit important information that could change people’s perception of a situation or person. Partial facts are lies.
To share a part of the truth as the whole truth is misleading, irresponsible, dishonest, disingenuous and untrustworthy. This is an unethical act that has no place in responsible leadership. It is absolutely clear if someone on purpose omits part of the picture, but you might wonder, “What if someone doesn’t know the rest of the truth?” I believe that the opportunity and responsibility of leadership includes taking the time to understand the issues and consider the ethical implications of our actions before speaking. In other words, while maintaining a moral consciousness is part of the job.
Unleash the positive power of ethical leadership
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