We generally think of honesty as in telling the truth, not telling lies.
There is a deeper kind of honesty, the integrity to tell the truth with the way we live our daily lives.
Army Major General David Blackledge was ambushed in Iraq. His interpreter was shot through the head, the vehicle he was in rolled over numerous times, and when he crawled out of the wreckage he was suffering from a crushed vertebrae and broken ribs. As he crawled from the vehicle, he found himself in the middle of a firefight. Since that time, he has suffered from flashbacks and nightmares, symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
PTSD is not the unusual thing about 2-star U.S. Army General Blackledge. It is estimated that up to 20% of returning troops suffer with PTSD. What is VERY unusual about General Blackledge is that in a culture that greatly values strength he was willing to defy the stigma, the code of silence about psychiatric injuries. “Stigma is a challenge,” said Army Secretary Pete Geren. “….We have a premium on strength——physically, mentally, emotionally.”
Some would say that Blackledge displayed a weakness. Others might say, to the contrary, it took great emotional and mental courage to speak so openly. Fear of loss of prestige, respect of others, and damage to one’s career keep many in silence. (Note: Blackledge is Army Reserve, who did two tours in Iraq in command of a civil affairs unit; the career risk might have been greater for a regular army officer in a combat arm.)
Leaders owe a duty of honesty and integrity to their followers. Sometimes that means having the courage to be selectively vulnerable, to allow our humanness to show. Sometimes when leaders attempt to ascend a pedestal, to become impossibly pure icons of perfection, it can discourage and mislead others who know all too well their own human foibles. Serving as role models is a vital function of leadership, and while we should always strive to be the best we can be, neither should we send false signals of unobtainable faultlessness.
A word of caution: There is a time and a place for everything. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and gut it out. The middle of a firefight is no time to go looking for Freud’s couch.
In the middle of a crisis it is a leader’s job to be cool, calm, and collected, to provide direction and lead the way with a confidence she might not always feel completely. Emotions are contagious and leaders must be able to direct and control their emotions at a level of great mastery. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a recognized treatment for PTSD. CBT is nothing more than a series of mental (cognitive = thinking) techniques to calm, control, and condition your emotions. Stiff upper lip has its place, denial does not.
“In order to free yourself from the domination of arbitrary standards and discover the true standards by which you should behave, you need to find the courage to do what you must without regard to what others may think.” — Chin-Ning Chu