A Fish Rots From The Head Down…

fish rot from the head

HBR Blog Network: The Data’s In: Honesty Really Does Start at the Top

We have found the top managers in an organization create a ceiling — that is, leaders the next level down tend to be rated lower than their managers on every leadership dimension — and that includes their honesty and integrity. In other words, levels of honesty are set at the top and can only go downhill from there…”

“It’s hard to reach the 90th percentile in anything, of course, and honesty is no different. So when we ran across one of those exceptional individuals (who hit the elusive 90th percentile mark on his ratings for honesty and integrity), we wanted to have a word with him…Explaining just what a difficult feat it is to receive feedback marks that remarkably high, we asked him: “What is your secret?” After all, it’s not like in his role he hadn’t confronted his share of temptation or hard trade-offs.

“It all starts with my boss and his boss,” he replied. “If there is a line for honesty and integrity, they don’t want to be close to it. Instead, they insist there be nothing questionable with any transaction. If there is a liberal interpretation of an accounting principle, they will always take the conservative route. It’s never hard for me to insist on unquestionable honesty, because they set the bar.”


I would encourage you to check out the related posts below which offer excellent thought leadership on this topic.

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  1. Alex Jones says:

    Am I right in thinking that the idea is put forward that the top level is more honest and with greater integrity than the lower level in a corporate?


  2. Alex, their findings indicate lower levels of the organization do not exceed the honesty/integrity levels of those at the top because they set the bar. So, if the bar is high at the top, they set high bar for integrity. If the bar is low at the top, this sets a ceiling at a much lower level (dishonesty rampant).


  3. I will definitely respond more thoughtfully when I get back, but David, the fish head really got me…


  4. Is that due to the fact that lower levels in corporate worlds don’t fully believe in the vision & or the people, and then have to try and pass a weak belief to the masses?


  5. Scary picture!!


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