Our aim is to analyze the position of the leader in relation to the ethical dimension of truth-telling within the organization under his/her control. Based on Michel Foucault’s study of truth-telling, we demonstrate that the role of the leader toward the corporation and the imperative of organizational performance place the leader in an ambiguous position: he/she is obliged to take the lead in “telling the truth” internally and externally, but also to bear the consequences of this “truth-telling” for the organization and for himself/herself. In this process of construction and implementing the truth, the leader is organizer and figurehead of the corporation’s truth-telling practices: determining the frontiers between truth that can be said and that which should remain hidden, both inside and outside the corporation; establishing a dialogue based on truth (i.e., an authentic, sincere relationship with all partners); guaranteeing that the rules of truth-telling are respected; and offering a truth which is compatible with the firm’s economic and ethical interest. Invested with the authority—the office—of managing truth within the corporation, the leader can be considered to be the “Chief Truth Officer.” From this perspective, we demonstrate that this role requires specific skills, like courage and practical wisdom.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Allhoff, F. (2003). Business bluffing reconsidered. Journal of Business Ethics, 45(4), 283–289.
Andrade, J. A. (2015). Reconceptualising whistleblowing in a complex world. Journal of Business Ethics, 128(2), 321–335.
Aristotle. (1934). The Nicomachean ethics. Trans. H. Rackham. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Avolio, J. B., & Gardner, L. W. (2005). Authentic leadership development: Getting to the root cause of positive forms of leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 16, 315–338.
Badaracco, J. L. (1992). Business ethics: Four spheres of executive responsibility. California Management Review, 34(3), 64–79.
Bennis, W., Goleman, D., O’Toole, J., & Biederman, P. W. (2008). Transparency: How leaders create a culture of candor. San Francisco: Wiley.
Brown, M. E., & Treviño, L. K. (2006). Ethical leadership: A review and future directions. The Leadership Quarterly, 17(6), 595–616.
Carr, A. (1968). Is business bluffing ethical? Harvard Business Review, 46(1), 143–153.
Carson, T. L. (2005). The morality of bluffing: A reply to Allhoff. Journal of Business Ethics, 56(4), 399–403.
Cassin, B. (1980). Si Parménide. Le traité anonyme De Melisso Xenophane Gorgia. In J. Bollack, Cahiers de philologie, IV. Lille: PUL.
Collinson, D. (2014). Dichotomies, dialectics and dilemmas: New directions for critical leadership studies? Leadership, 10(1), 36–55.
Contu, A. (2014). Rationality and relationality in the process of whistleblowing: Recasting whistleblowing through readings of Antigone. Journal of Management Inquiry, 23(4), 393–406.
Crane, A., Knights, D., & Starkey, K. (2008). The conditions of our freedom: Foucault, organization, and ethics. Business Ethics Quarterly, 18(3), 299–320.
Deslandes, G. (2012). The care-of-self ethic with continual reference to Socrates: Towards ethical self-management. Business Ethics: A European Review, 21(4), 325–338.
Dufresne, R. L., & Offstein, E. H. (2008). On the virtues of secrecy in organizations. Journal of Management Inquiry, 17(2), 102–106.
Eenkhoorn, P., & Graafland, J. J. (2011). Lying in business: Insights from Hannah Arendt’s ‘Lying in Politics’. Business Ethics: A European Review, 20(4), 359–374.
Elliot, A. L., & Schroth, R. J. (2002). How companies lie: Why Enron is just the tip of the iceberg. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Finkelstein, S., & Boyd, B. K. (1998). How much does the CEO matter? The role of managerial discretion in the setting of CEO compensation. Academy of Management Journal, 41(2), 179–199.
Finkelstein, S., & Hambrick, D. C. (1990). Top-management-team tenure and organizational outcomes: The moderating role of managerial discretion. Administrative Science Quarterly, 35(3), 484–503.
Fleming, P., & Zyglidopoulos, S. C. (2008). The escalation of deception in organizations. Journal of Business Ethics, 81(4), 837–850.
Flynn, T. (2007). Foucault as parrhesiast: His last course at the Collège de France (1984). Philosophy and Social Criticism, 12(2/3), 213–229.
Foucault, M. (1969). L’archéologie du savoir. Paris: Gallimard.
Foucault, M. (1983). Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia. Six lectures given by Michel Foucault at the University of California at Berkeley. Retrieved May 6, 2017, from http://foucault.info/doc/documents/parrhesia/index-html.
Foucault, M. (1984). L’éthique du souci de soi comme pratique de la liberté. In Dits et écrits, vol. IV (1994), nr. 356. Paris: Gallimard.
Foucault, M. (2001). L’herméneutique du sujet, Cours au Collège de France 1981–1982. Paris: Hautes études, Gallimard, Le Seuil.
Foucault, M. (2008). Le gouvernement de soi et des autres, Cours au Collège de France 1982–1983. Paris: Hautes études, Gallimard, Le Seuil.
Foucault, M. (2009). Le courage de la vérité, le gouvernement de soi et des autres II, Cours au Collège de France 1983–1984. Paris: Hautes études, Gallimard, Le Seuil.
Friedman, M. (1970). The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. New York Times Magazine, September, 13(32–33), 122–124.
Fulmer, I. S., Barry, B., & Long, D. A. (2009). Lying and smiling: Informational and emotional deception in negotiation. Journal of Business Ethics, 88(4), 691–709.
Gabriel, Y. (2000). Storytelling in organizations: Facts, fictions, and fantasies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gadamer, H. G. (1960). Wahrheit und Methode. Tübingen: Mohr.
Gagnon, S., & Collinson, D. (2014). Rethinking global leadership development programmes: The interrelated significance of power, context and identity. Organization Studies, 35(5), 645–670.
Guthey, E., & Jackson, B. (2005). CEO portraits and the authenticity paradox. Journal of Management Studies, 42(5), 1057–1082.
Hackett, R. D., & Wang, G. (2012). Virtues and leadership: An integrating conceptual framework founded in Aristotelian and Confucian perspectives on virtues. Management Decision, 50(5), 868–899.
Hannah, D. (2005). Should i keep a secret? The effects of trade secret protection procedures on employees. Obligations to protect trade secrets. Organization Science, 16(1), 71–84.
Janis, I. L. (1972). Victims of groupthink: A psychological study of foreign-policy decisions and fiascoes. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin.
Kaptein, M. (2004). Business codes of multinational firms: What do they say? Journal of Business Ethics, 50(1), 13–31.
Kessler, D. (2001). L’entreprise entre transparence et secret. Pouvoirs, 97(2), 33–46.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (1993). Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Langenberg, S. (2004). Parresiastic stakeholder: A different approach to ethical institutions. Journal of Business Ethics, 53(1–2), 39–50.
McMillan, S., Duska, R., Hamilton, R., & Casey, D. (2006). The ethical dilemma of research and development openness versus secrecy. Journal of Business Ethics, 65(3), 279–285.
Melé, D. (2010). Practical wisdom in managerial decision making. Journal of Management Development, 29(7/8), 637–645.
Merton, R. K. (1968). Social theory and social structure. New York: The Free Press.
Miller, J. S. (2009). Opportunistic disclosures of earnings forecasts and non-GAAP earnings measures. Journal of Business Ethics, 89(1), 3–10.
Mintzberg, H. (1989). Mintzberg on management: Inside our strange world of organizations. New York: The Free Press.
Mintzberg, H. (1990). The manager’s job. Folklore and fact. Harvard Business Review, 68(2), 163–176.
Painter-Morland, M., Deslandes, G. (2015). Authentic leading as relational accountability: Facing up to the conflicting expectations of media leaders. Leadership, 13(4), 424–444.
Parameshwar, S. (2005). Spiritual leadership through ego-transcendence: Exceptional responses to challenging circumstances. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(5), 689–722.
Pascal, B. (1933). Pensées, Ed. Brunschvicg. Paris: Editions de Cluny.
Plato. (1929). Epistles. Trans. R. G. Bury. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Plato. (1979). Apology of Socrates. Translation T. G. West. Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press.
Plato. (2004). The republic. Translation C. D. C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett.
Plutarch. (1918). The Life of Dion. In Lives, vol. 6. Trans. B. Perrin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Pompa, V. (1992). Managerial secrecy: An ethical examination. Journal of Business Ethics, 11(2), 147–156.
Preuss, L., & Dawson, D. (2009). On the quality and legitimacy of green narratives in business: A framework for evaluation. Journal of Business Ethics, 84(1), 135–149.
Provis, C. (2000). Ethics, deception, and labor negotiation. Journal of Business Ethics, 28(2), 145–158.
Radoilska, L. (2008). Truthfulness and business. Journal of Business Ethics, 79(1), 21–28.
Rey, O. (2014). Une question de taille. Paris: Stock.
Ricoeur, P. (2004). Ethique. In M. Canto-Sperber (Ed.), Dictionnaire d’éthique et de philosophie morale (Vol. 1, pp. 689–694). Paris: PUF.
Schwartz, M. S., Dunfee, T. W., & Kline, M. J. (2005). Tone at the top: An ethics code for directors? Journal of Business Ethics, 58(1–3), 79–100.
Simmel, G. (1906). The sociology of secrecy and of the secret societies. American Journal of Sociology, 11, 441–498.
Simon, H. (1984). Models of bounded rationality (Vol. 3). Cambridge: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.
Sims, R. R., & Brinkmann, J. (2003). Enron ethics (or: Culture matters more than codes). Journal of Business Ethics, 45(3), 243–256.
Sison, A. J. G. (2003). The moral capital of leaders: Why virtue matters. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Turilli, M., & Floridi, L. (2009). The ethics of information transparency. Ethics and Information Technology, 11(2), 105–112.
Vandekerckhove, W., & Langenberg, S. (2012). Can We Organize Courage? Implications from Foucault’s Parrhesia. Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies, 17(2), 35–44.
Walker, M., & Kent, A. (2013). The roles of credibility and social consciousness in the corporate philanthropy-consumer behavior relationship. Journal of Business Ethics, 116(2), 341–353.
Weaver, G. R., Trevino, K. L., & Cochran, P. L. (1999). Corporate ethics programs as control systems: Influences of executive commitment and environmental factors. Academy of Management Journal, 42(1), 41–57.
Weiskopf, R., & Tobias-Miersch, Y. (2016). Whistleblowing, parrhesia and the contestation of truth in the workplace. Organization Studies, 37(11), 1621–1640.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
About this article
Cite this article
Bouilloud, JP., Deslandes, G. & Mercier, G. The Leader as Chief Truth Officer: The Ethical Responsibility of “Managing the Truth” in Organizations. J Bus Ethics 157, 1–13 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-017-3678-0