Some things in life are overrated, but I would argue that honesty isn’t one of them. I’m not talking about blunt honesty that’s doled out carelessly. When honesty is offered humbly and thoughtfully, it can have a potent and often surprising effect on others. For Amanda Needham, her honesty took the form of a sign she posted outside her front door. It read:
“To the person who stole my bike
I hope you need it more than me
It was $200 used and I need it to get to work.
I can’t afford another one.
Next time, steal a hipster’s Peugeot. Or not steal!
P.S. Bring it back!”
Needham’s sign clearly showed her vulnerability and the sting of her new circumstances. She admitted to feeling a little foolish for leaving the sign up for a few days, until one evening, Needham heard a knock on the door. Two young men brought her a blue mountain bike. One of them introduced himself and said, “Are you the one who got your bike stolen? I had that happen to me as well, and I had this bike lying around, so I figured you might be able to use it.”
These visitors were followed by two more strangers who, each on separate occasions, had read the sign and wanted to know how they could help. The first asked what kind of bike Needham needed and offered a consoling hug. The second visitor was an art dealer who liked the craftsmanship of her sign and offered to buy it for, you guessed it, $200.
Needham was amazed by the goodwill she experienced after sharing her predicament on cardboard. “I was invigorated. This sign was changing things. So much decency was pouring out from such a simple gesture of opening myself up to the universe.”
When I read Needham’s story, I couldn’t help but think about how opening myself up to others had accomplished the same positive reactions for me when I was CEO at Prologis. While my candid messages weren’t advertised on a large hand-painted sign outside of my office door (though, that might have been worth trying!), they were the foundation of one-on-one conversations, team gatherings and town hall meetings.
Speaking the truth with vulnerability was sometimes challenging in these circumstances, but in the end, those truthful discussions went a long way toward forming trust and cementing work relationships. Some even argue that honesty can have a positive impact on your mental well-being. Committing to authentic conversations with those around you decreases your stress and provides you and those around you a reprieve from maintaining appearances.
Take it from an excellent sign maker and a leader who have personally experienced a variety of remarkable and surprising outcomes when they’ve chosen the path of honesty. It can have a profound effect on your community and your workplace culture. Watch for part two of this blog when I’ll continue our discussion about honesty and talk about one of the most important opportunities you have to be a truthful leader.
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