What if Honesty Had Been a Priority at GM?

At Big Think today, I posted a blog on “The Power of Honesty.” We live in a time when it is less valued than playing along to get along, staying under the radar, passing the buck, and a host of other forms of ugly politics described in The Secret Handshake and It’s All Politics.

What if honesty had been a priority — a valued strategy even — at General Motors?  As we learn more of the faulty ignition switch known about years before now, “nods” that led to inaction and placing responsibility and blame elsewhere, it’s obvious that a culture of neglect and dishonesty permeated GM.  As a result, people died.

It would take more than a single blog to explore how such a culture takes root.  It’s an insidious process of people learning that dishonesty is rewarded — honesty punished.  No one appears to be at fault, it’s just the way things are.  But no one steps forward to put a stop to it either.  Or else those who do are silenced or fired.  It takes a crisis or whistleblower to expose the deviousness that has become second nature, often defended as a part of business.

Dishonesty corrodes individuals and organizations.  It starts small with little lies.  We learn as children to bend the truth — often to spare others.  What would society be like if everyone were to say exactly what they thought at any given moment in time?  But where is the line?  That’s what every organization, every individual, needs to decide.  And then the hard work of rewarding honest efforts at improvement can begin.



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