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The Honesty Conundrum

In recent years, the quest for honesty and transparency is the rebel yell of a generation. We demand to know the truth from our government officials, our significant others, and our employers. The “Me Too” movement is outing people who use their positions of power to dominate others. We live in a world where the phrase “fake news” is thrown around to scare us into believing sanitized propaganda. In our quest for honesty, we are becoming less curious and more unforgiving. I learned this week that true honesty, while at times painful, helps you confront complacency. Ultimately, accepting unflinching honesty can help you reinvigorate curiosity, self-awareness, and ownership of your destiny.

In my organization, I have built a sound reputation around the subject of honesty and transparency. I often tell my team, if there is something confidential, I will tell you that I cannot share it, otherwise, you’ll know what I know. My managers and I resolve to share details with our team members about their performance and progress as openly as possible. Currently, our management team regularly gives each other feedback openly to help strengthen our alignment and performance.

That brings me to my confrontation with honesty. My boss asked to have lunch with me to catch up on events in my division after a vacation. Inevitably, during the download, we started to discuss my opportunities within our organization. A few years ago, I worked with a consultant to scope out my dream career path. This was an amazing opportunity for me match my passion to a career goal. I landed on Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). My passion is building strong teams that focus on strategic opportunities for complex problem-solving and process efficiencies. The goal of CSO fit well into my long-term vision.

At the time, my organization did not have this title or career path. Yet, in 18 months, they established the Strategic Operations Division and installed a leader. I was excited about the implementation of the division. Although the organization was based in Boston, my family and I decided four years ago that we would relocate for opportunities that fit our goals. With carefully controlled anticipation, I began my own development plan to position myself for consideration in this division by participating in problem-solving pursuits well outside of my wheelhouse. I was determined to learn as much as I could so that my company would value my strength in quick learning and boundary-spanning problem solving. I was even asked to be on a special project working with a new team based in Boston. I was excited about what this could mean for my career.

Back to the conversation with my boss. I recently published my book “Succeeding with Passion” and began doing speaking engagements and workshops. I realized that she wanted to know, with all fairness and fiduciary responsibility, if my focus for growth remained within my organization. I told her that I still had a strong interest in the Strategic Operations group and was confused by the recent addition of a VP into that area. My next question was “how does the company feel about me? Why am I not being considered for any of these opportunities?”

Here is where honesty and transparency crash spectacularly into ego and pride.

She replied honestly, “you are considered a high potential with a lot of headroom Stephanie. The company just doesn’t know what to do with you.” My entire body went numb. I felt like I was in one of those movies where the camera pans out fast and you get the sense that the actor is reeling. Quite calmly I replied “well, what does (another leader) think about me? Does he think I add value and have potential?” Her next reply shifted my internal axis. It took me 20 hours to process through it.

She said, with full honesty and transparency, “he said that why would he invest time into developing you when he has a bunch of smart finance guys in Boston that he could develop to be equally, if not more, successful.” The conversation ended there. I began my mental shutdown and put on my game face. She had another meeting.

Honesty and transparency delivered. Ego and pride crushed. After the shock wore off, the game face was replaced with indignation, followed by seething rage. While I was at work, I swallowed down my unresolved anger and finished the day. The moment I stepped foot onto the sidewalk outside my building, I allowed myself to begin to process through these feelings. I called my "emotional support" team - my husband and father.

I railed against the pain. They both listened while I yelled about the unfairness of my organization not understanding my value. I stewed in anger for the rest of the night. In the morning, when I woke, I was preparing for my shower. My husband, a patient listener, was standing against the bathroom sink listening to me putting on an amazing display of “they can all go to hell!”

Three minutes into my morning tirade, my words caught in my throat. As I looked at my husband, a tidal wave of self-doubt, despair, and hurt feelings washed over me. I fell into his arms and sobbed for fifteen minutes. “Why does this always happen to me?” I asked him. “Why do I try so hard only to be stymied by someone else’s view of my value?” “Why can’t I catch a break here?” As I processed my pain through tears, I began to formulate a different thought process. I needed a breakthrough.

My husband drove me into work that day because he wanted to be there as I processed through my feelings. High levels of emotions are severe derailers for me. I have learned over the years that I need a safe space to process them so that I can take appropriate action. My dad and husband provide that safety. As we drove in to Downtown that morning, I decided that I would take another course of action.

I realized, with some fair amount of brutal self-awareness, that I was actually sitting back and not directly advocating for myself. I was trapped in my fallback disposition: find a project, put my head down, work hard, and hope that someone will notice and give me the opportunity. What I needed to do was create my own opportunities through building relationships with the right people. I needed a new strategy around my personal complex problem.

My current special project, based in Boston, was in the division headed by the leader of the Strategic Operations group. I decided to reach out to him to see if I could speak with him about future opportunities. At the very least, I would get an idea of next steps after a conversation with him. I sent him an email, he responded in a favorable manner, remembering me and the “great conversation” we had when I met him with a colleague. He agreed to meet with me to discuss the opportunities in his division. In that moment, I felt that I had a little more control over my future in my chosen organization.

Let’s get back to honesty. My boss was incredibly honest with me about where I stood in the organization. It was painful and I appreciated her candor. For the next 24 hours, I was derailed. I had to deal with emotions coupled with an uncomfortable level of uncertainty. However, this is where life lessons come into focus. I found my “people” who sustained me safely through every emotion I needed to feel. Then I paused and brought myself back to a curious state. This exercise helped me ask myself questions to determine my next steps. Ultimately, my decision was to work different. I realized I needed to work through a relationship that I was currently cultivating. This relationship, remarkably, was with the executive leading the very group I wanted to join. I also realized that I cannot rely on others to determine my self-worth.

Who knows where my path will lead. I feel stronger today than I did before last week. I am grounded in the belief that honesty and transparency are gifts. You may experience strong emotions and minor derailments, but at the end of the day, honesty brings you back to being the owner of your own destiny.


Have you had a situation where honesty and transparency led to an emotional derailment?

How did you handle it? What went well? What would you do differently?

Who is your safe person? Who is on your team to help you process the emotion and get back to curious?

How will you be honest with yourself?


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