“I look for three things in hiring people. The first is personal integrity, the second is intelligence and the third is a high energy level. But, if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you” (Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway)

A person who behaves in a dishonest or deceptive way, either as a hoax or in jest, is sometimes called a ‘humbug’. The term was first described in 1751 as student slang and then recorded as a nautical phrase in 1840. It is now often used as an exclamation to mean ‘nonsense’ or ‘gibberish’. When referring to a person, a humbug means a fraud or imposter, implying an element of unjustified publicity and spectacle. In modern usage, the word is most associated with the character, Ebenezer Scrooge, created by Charles Dickens in his novella ‘A Christmas Carol’. Scrooge’s famous reference to Christmas, “Bah! Humbug!”, declaring Christmas to be a fraud, is commonly used in stage and television versions and also appeared frequently in the original book. The word is also prominently used in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, in which the Scarecrow refers to the Wizard as a humbug and the Wizard agrees.

Deception and dishonesty destroy the trust that others have placed in you as a leader. Low trust causes friction, whether it is caused by unethical behaviour or by ethical but incompetent behaviour (as even good intentions can never take the place of bad judgement). Dr Stephen R Covey, author of ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ and many other books, notes: “Low trust is the greatest cost in life and in organisations. Low trust creates hidden agendas, politics, interpersonal conflict, interdepartmental rivalries, win-lose thinking, defensive and protective communication – all of which reduce the speed of trust. Low trust slows everything – every decision, every communication and every relationship”.

The downfall of many leaders lies in posing as the leader – taking the position and attempting to fulfil the role, but lacking the character, credibility and competency traits that are expected to be demonstrated within the position. Instead, these ‘leaders’ use power to manipulate circumstances, position and people to suit their own needs and contexts. Often just seeing people as pawns on the business or political chessboard, relationships with employees are considered as unimportant and staff are seen as easily-disposable commodities. They are seen as a ‘cost’ to the business and paying salaries is viewed as an irritation. Others learn from this leadership dishonesty and perpetuate corresponding behaviour patterns within the organisation. The environment becomes toxic.

Don’t be a humbug as a leader! Counterfeit leaders cause distrust and slow down the organisation’s capabilities. Stephen M R Covey, of The Speed of Trust’’ fame, notes: “Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create – much faster than you probably think possible”.

Benjamin Disraeli noted: “All power is a trust; and we are accountable for its exercise”.

Leave a Reply