Are You Intellectually Honest or the President of Fantasy Land?

Are You Intellectually Honest or the President of Fantasy Land?

If you practice intellectual honesty you will have influence and credibility - it’s a simple and powerful formula but so many get it wrong.

As seasoned managers, we’ve had many, many staff over the years; and those who stand out as the most credible and influential were not just honest, they were intellectually honest.

People who are intellectually honest have the most influence with us because we know that we aren’t just being lobbied for someone’s own self-interest, we are getting the unvarnished truth – which is what managers need and rely on to move the business forward.  

So what’s the difference between honesty and intellectual honesty?

Honesty is telling the truth, intellectual honesty is adopting an unbiased attitude in pursuit of the truth. An intellectually honest argument does not twist, or omit facts to give a misleading impression, and will in fact acknowledge any shortcomings.    

Intellectual honesty is seeing things for what they are—not what you want them to be—and then using the acknowledgement of that truth to move forward effectively.

Consider this scenario. You have a co-worker who is very difficult to deal with and has many shortcomings, but has some important skills as well. The truth is, you can’t stand her. Your boss refuses to address this employee’s performance issues which creates tension and disruption among the staff. You approach your boss to recommend that the lines of authority be re-drawn to minimize her impact in areas that do not match her skill set, thereby helping her focus on areas better suited to her skills.

In doing so, you acknowledge where her skills lie and address where she has deficits. This is an example of intellectual honesty. Rather than lobbying for the changes by painting a purely negative picture, you look at the situation for what it really is, putting your personal feelings aside, and making an intellectually honest argument to correct the problem.

Here are examples of what intellectual honesty looks like in action. Practicing these things is a surefire way to build your influence and credibility.

Be willing to participate in an honest exchange of opinions. If you are unable or unwilling to admit when someone with an opposing view raises a good point or makes a valid criticism, it demonstrates an unwillingness to participate in an honest exchange, and that inflexibility diminishes your credibility.

Publicly question your own assumptions. All of us rely on assumptions when applying our worldview to make sense of a situation. And all of us bring various biases to the table. You will expand your understanding of the world when you discover that your assumptions were wrong and be willing to openly express it. You will learn and grow in the process and you will be more credible as a result.

Acknowledge where your argument is weak. Almost all arguments have weak spots, but those who are trying to sell an ideology will have difficulty acknowledging when their argument is weak and would rather obscure or downplay any weak points. Not all workplace problems are easily solved and honestly working through the grey areas, by acknowledging where your argument is weak, gives you more credibility.

Admit when you are wrong. Those who push an ideology have great difficulty admitting to being wrong, as it undercuts the rhetoric and image that is being promoted. Your credibility will actually increase when you admit to being wrong. However, if you fail to admit to being wrong – even on small matters, your credibility and influence will take a significant hit.

Too many people cower at the thought of acknowledging another way of thinking, even when it has merit. It’s this fear of acknowledging other possibilities or acknowledging that “my original line of thinking has changed” that inhibits the pursuit of the best outcome. The damage created in its wake is diminished credibility and degraded influence.

Do you prefer to live in fantasy land or in reality?

Those who are intellectually honest live in reality and make better decisions and recommendations because of it. As a result, they are the most credible and have greater influence.

Practicing intellectual honesty can be uncomfortable at first but after you get used to it and see your credibility and influence grow, you’ll never go back.  

Question your assumptions, ask for advice, consider the dissenting opinion and admit when you’re wrong. It’s not easy, but who wants to be the president of fantasy land?

Houtman | Domenighini
Human Performance
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Jill Houtman and Danny Domenighini are partners at Coffee and Pints, an unconventional professional development blog. The partnership was formed in response to their personal ... Click for full bio

NBA Player Carl Landry Demonstrates the Value of Persistence in Life and Work

NBA Player Carl Landry Demonstrates the Value of Persistence in Life and Work

Written by: Jon Sabes

When you meet Carl Landry, stand-out college basketball player and nine-year NBA player, you imagine that becoming a professional basketball star was a straight forward run for the 6-foot-nine-inch power forward. 

However, when you go deeper into Carl’s background, becoming a NBA professional was less than certain and little came easily to the 33-year-old from Milwaukee:

  • He was cut from his high school team as a freshman and averaged less than ten points a game when he did play as a senior.
  • He started his college career not at Purdue, but a junior college where it was not clear he would play.
  • When he finally got to Purdue, he tore his ACL in his knee his first year and reinjured it the next year.
  • While his family held a party for him the night of the NBA draft, he slept in the Philadelphia airport after missing a flight following a workout for the 76ers.
  • In the NBA playoffs, Carl had a tooth knocked out, but came back in the same game to make a game-winning blocked shot as the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz 94-92.

Landry, who I interviewed on my podcast, Innovating Life with Jon Sabes (, is a remarkable example of the value of “persistence.” In a time where technology creates the image that anything is possible at the touch of a button, persistence is an under-appreciated trait. When I spoke with Carl, I clearly saw someone for whom success has only come through a force of will that made him a NBA player, but it also made him a better player every year he played. That’s the kind of personality that has produced greatness in business as well as sports.

Carl was, in fact, drafted that night he spent in the airport. The Seattle Supersonics chose him as the 31st overall pick and then traded him to the Houston Rockets where he rode the bench for much of the first half of the season. When All-Star teammate Yao Ming was injured, he stepped in and played a key role in the Rockets astonishing 22-game winning streak (the third longest streak in NBA history). And, that season, after sitting on the bench for 33 of the first 36 games, he was named to the All-Rookie second team.

Carl was the first in his family to go to college. “I told myself that this was my ticket out, so I did everything I possibly could to be the best person in school and also on the court,” he said.

His family life in Milwaukee showed him what he didn’t want to do. “Just being honest with you, seeing some my cousins, peers, they went to work for jobs paying six, seven dollars an hour or they didn’t go to work at all and then living off welfare. I didn’t want that.”

When he was first injured, he had to contemplate the end of a career before it even got started. “When you have an ACL tear, it’s over…no more basketball,” he told me. “I said, God, give me health again and I’ll do everything I can to leave it all out on the line and be a successful individual.”

On my podcast, Carl pointed out another interesting lesson he learned in the NBA: Not doing things just to fit in.

“Fitting in was easy,” he said. “Doing everything that everybody else does was easy. If I stood out in some type of way, I’m going to have different results. I’m going to have stand-out results.”

That’s called the “Law of Contrast” and it produces that exact effect of changing the outcomes that everyone else is experiencing.  Carl is smart, he recognized that differences make a difference, and doing whatever it takes is what is required to make real, meaningful differences.

Every off-season for the last 11 years, he has run a camp for kids in Milwaukee where he tells youth his story of hard work and persistence. “I always tell the kids to apply themselves and always be persistent,” he said. “If you dream, apply yourself and be persistent. With hard work, man, the sky’s the limit.”

When Carl says the sky’s the limit he means it.  He is smart to recognize that it’s important to dream big, because if we don’t – we may be selling ourselves short. “You have to dream bigger than your mind could ever imagine,” he said. “I wanted a nice house. I wanted a nice car. I said, and I got all of that. So, what do I do, do I stop now? Maybe I didn’t dream big enough.” That’s a big statement coming from a kid who grew up to be the first in his family to graduate college and go on to be not only a top NBA basketball start, but a good businessman, father and someone who gives back to the community.

I’m convinced that in whatever he takes on as a basketball player or in his post-hoops career, Carl Landry is not going to stop getting better at whatever he does, and in the process of doing so, make the world a better place.

GWG Holdings, Inc.
Investing in Life
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GWG Holdings, Inc. (Nasdaq:GWGH) the parent company of GWG Life, is a financial services company committed to transforming the life insurance industry through disruptive and i ... Click for full bio