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Honesty in Entrepreneurship

Gustav Juul

Gustav Juul

Principal Partner

Adizes Institute

I remember the a situation where I cannot have been much more than 3 year old. For some reason we had not been completely honest about why I had to leave school early and I was very worried about the lie we had told my kinder-garden teacher. It was surely harmless, but I remember my father telling me that these were white lies and that they sometimes were necessary. I think I still remember it because it must have been a very exciting and challenging concept to me. It still is.

Some say that lying is a bad habit, while some others say harmless lies, white lies, are okay. Even since childhood, we are being taught something about honesty that slowly, as we grow up, we observe that it is exactly opposite of what we have been said. The controversies are everywhere. Remember those days when your father said, “If you eat the spinach you will become as strong as Popeye” or when your mother gave you a glass of milk saying, “If you drink this glass full of milk, you will bless you with strength, intelligence and wisdom?”. I didn’t really like milk or spinach for that matter, but ate and drank what my parents said because I believed them and also, not doing as they said had consequences. In my parents’ house, if we dared say that we didn’t like something, my mother made sure that we had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a full week. My brother and I learned to liked everything my mother cooked! Anyway, it’s hard to forget those joyful days of our life. Though we hated our parents for it back then, we cherish it now.

Although I still feel young, I must confess that I am almost 50 years old and the rules are not the same anymore, and frankly speaking I like it much more this way. I don’t lie, neither in my personal life nor in my professional life. I expect the people I work with to be honest and I am honest to the people I work with, employees and clients alike. The world does not expect us to offer white lies and half truths, it wants straightforward truth. I believes in transparency and doesn’t want to stress about having to read between the lines and worry about if what I imagine to be there is good or bad for me. I believe my customers feel the same way.

To me being honest is not a strategy or a tricks, it is just plain and simple an easier way of living that has brought me success and piece of mind. What I live by is not so much “strict rules” but “reminders” and boundaries I keep within. I will share some of them with you hoping that they make sense to you.

I guess the first reminder is to find joy in what I do. Success rarely doesn’t come overnight and it takes a huge effort to build and lead a team or organization. While building a company and leading it towards the stepping stones of success, what we often miss out is “To enjoy”. Humor is the catalyst to a pleasant working environment and that is why allowing yourself to laughter plays a great role in building up bonding amongst the employees. In any workplace, what matters the most is the one you enjoy.

The next thing that is important to me is to give back more than I take. God, our families, our employees, our community and even our customers give us plenty of things that make it possible for us to stand tall. I feel we are obligated to give that back. The most amazing thing about this is that it is something beyond just giving back to the society, it attracts likeminded people. When one has a cause, like writing this book once a year and promote our ideas, it makes other people aware of their social responsibilities, and helps new people find their cause.

I am Danish, as many of you that have been reading these articles know. I like very many things about the Danish society and culture. I think it is a healthy way of living spiritually and socially. Doing well and giving back are not counterposed forces. It is part of what we should do. Let me share an extract of an very old Danish song with you that is representative of our way of thinking.

The field is mowed and the hay is harvested,
the grain is in the barns, and the hay is drying.
The fruit is picked and the tree is shaken,
and now it goes home with the very last load.
We raked the field lightly, it’s old right,
the bird and the poor must also be full.
We rake the field lightly,
it’s old right,
the bird and the poor must also be satiated.

The song was written as far back as the 18th century and was based on an even older song. As you can see, working and doing well is joyful and important, but it is our custom not to take everything we can from the field, we rake the field lightly to leave enough for the poor and the birds. Of course we are a successful society, we strive to do well, but giving to us, being one of the countries in the world with the highest taxes, does not make us feel we are doing less well.

My third reminder is that nobody likes having to try to find the hidden truth. When trust is broke between two people because there is a lack of honesty or transparency, one is always left feeling cheated. I feel that is it always better to share the information in a way that is easy for me to explain and easy for the person on the opposite side to understand. The easier it is to understand, the more the transparency is maintained between you and your customers. Whenever I can I speak with them from the heart, make them feel safe and that I will walk the extra mile for my clients, if we can find a way to walk together.

This is a wonderful way of doing business! At the Adizes Institute we never pushes products and services down the throat of our clients, together we analyze if it makes sense for us to work together, and if it does we “walk together” for a while, if it doesn’t, it makes more sense to wait, because paths always end up crossing again. It is better to leave friends along the way, you can look in the eye in the future.

My forth reminder is to treat the people I work with the same way I treat my customers. I have found that removing that barrier makes for better relationships and better results. I don’t feel the need to pose as something I am not. I make myself available to them, sharing my worries and what I am joyful about. Even when I speak to an employee that works in another continent and sitting with them for a few minutes is not possible, I still try to make them feel that I care for them, their opinion, their career, and most importantly, their life.

My fifth and last reminder is to be a guiding light. I might at times be a person that people turn to in the organizations I have worked in. Of course I brought financial results, but I think that they were mainly due to the personal relationships I created within and without the organizations. Clients and colleagues must feel your presence, not just in your emails, but on a personalized level. You must come out of your cubicle and share your thoughts through various regular communications with the employees.

You might have the same reminders as me, but if you don’t and you want to try them out, I am sure you will feel better tomorrow for it.


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