Honesty Game, Do You Play to Win?

Honesty Game, Do You Play to Win? image DATE: February 5, 2019

The honesty game — do you play to win? When it comes to honesty, leaders come out on top if they appropriately manage confidential information and maintain a positive, professional, trusting working relationship with followers.

The Honesty Game

For the record, I would do nothing intentionally to diminish the importance of honesty.  However, I readily admit my willingness to do almost anything to emphasize and anchor the importance of honesty in this same discussion.  So, I have devised what I call the “honesty game.”

Game Contestants

The honesty game pits leaders against followers.

1. Leaders are defined as those individuals in possession of and charged with managing confidential information on the entire organization’s behalf.

2. Followers are defined as those individuals wishing to have immediate, unfiltered, and unrestricted access to that confidential information for their own individual often unstated, purposes.

Objectives of the Honesty Game

The honesty game has dual objectives:

1. To build and maintain an ongoing positive, productive, and trusting working relationship between leaders and followers.

2. To manage information flow between leaders and followers employing the most honest, considerate and efficient methods possible–all the while protecting the confidentiality and integrity of the information to be shared and the individuals it impacts (directly or indirectly).

Rules of the Honesty Game

The honesty game has differing rules for the participants:

Rules for Leaders:

1. Work with followers to accomplish the organization’s established objectives.

2. Consistently share timely and appropriate information with followers in an ongoing effort to help them do their jobs most effectively, while building and maintaining a positive, trusting working relationship with those same followers.

3. Do not, under any circumstances, reveal or share confidential information with followers that could be judged to violate existing laws, rules and regulations or policies or that in any way could be construed as being:

  • Illegal
  • Immoral
  • Unethical
  • Highly impractical

Consistently share timely and appropriate information with followers.

Rules for Followers:

  • 1. None.

In an effort to secure desired confidential information from leaders, it’s acceptable and expected that followers will do whatever they deem necessary and appropriate, including but not limited to:

  • — Pressing: “Oh, c’mon, you might as well go ahead and tell me.  You know I’m just going to keep asking, day after day, never letting up until you finally give in and tell me what I want to know.”


  • — Begging: “Please tell me what’s going on.  Just this once and I’ll never ask again. You know you can trust me.  Whatever you tell me will stay right here. I won’t tell a soul, I swear.”


  • — Slamming or guilting: “How long have we known each other?  Fifteen years, that’s how long! And now you won’t even share a little information with me?  Well, I guess I see what this friendship really means to you.”


  • — Threatening: “I’ll tell you  right now–if you won’t do me this one little favor and tell me what’s going on, well then, don’t ever come asking for my help again, because I can promise you, you won’t regret it.  You can be that I won’t forget.”


Losing the Honesty Game

Followers really can’t lose, since they never really expect the leaders to share restricted, confidential information in the first place.  If followers’ attempts don’t succeed, they tend to consider themselves to be no worse off for trying. Leaders, on the other hand, can definitely lose the honesty game–along with their future ability to lead–if they prove themselves unwilling or unable to appropriately manage confidential information entrusted to them.


Winning the Honesty Game

Followers will consider themselves winners if they are able to persuade leaders to relinquish any amount of confidential information that they (the followers) didn’t have or expect to receive.

Leaders can and will come out on top if they are able to appropriately manage confidential information and maintain a positive, professional and trusting working relationship with followers, throughout and following the “honesty game.” And bonus points are available if they can do this despite followers’ most aggressive attempts. Those bonus points come in the form of heightened respect from these very same followers.

It occurs when the followers come to a point where they consciously think:  My leader wouldn’t share inappropriate, confidential information with me, despite my continued attempts to persuade him or her otherwise.  Therefore, I can now trust that she or he will not share inappropriate, confidential information about me–despite others’ continued attempts to have him or her do so.

At such a point as this in the honesty game, appropriate bonus points have been earned and deposited automatically into your leadership account.


Time Frame of the Honesty Game

It’s continuous; in-fact, it’s underway right now.  Timeouts are not allowed. Get started!



Please understand that I’m not suggesting, not even for one moment, that leaders should avoid difficult conversations when necessary.  We must communicate the truth, even during difficult circumstances. But how we communicate difficult truths can make the long-term difference between a positive, trusting leader-follower relationship and a continuing struggle with follower interaction, engagement and motivation.  And follower motivation is a worthy goal.

For more on Honesty, check out Leaders Ought to Know:  Maintain Honesty and Confidentiality


About The Author:

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by building engaged employee relationships. He is an award-winning keynote speaker and author on engaged leadership and communication. His most recent book is “Earning The Right To Be Heard," a primer for creating greater influence and opportunities. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn.

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