That last sentence brought silence to the room, partly because of the darkness of the news, and partly as an honor to Jack for having been brave enough to have reported it with Eileen sitting right there. As if in anticipation of an explosion, everyone turned to look at Eileen.
"First I want to commend you, Jack, for telling us so early, while we still have options," Eileen began. "Takes courage. And what do you think we ought to do now?"
Eileen has just taken two steps that will encourage people in her organization to report the truth. She has publicly recognized Jack for telling the truth, and she has rewarded him by asking for his guidance in responding to its implications.
Samuel Goldwyn once said, "I don't want any yes-men around me. Tell me the truth, even if it costs you your job." The laughable impossibility of his preference is at the core of the problem of getting to the truth. Punishing truth telling drives Truth underground.
What actions can you take to encourage people in your organization to tell the Truth?
- Appreciate risk-taking
- Telling the truth can entail revealing failure. If you punish failure, or even if you recognize only success, you train people to conceal failure.
- Recognize people who take reasonable risks, even if they aren't successful. Recognize failures — not all failures, but at least those that result in valuable learning.
- Avoid heavy-handed or coercive tactics
- Some tactics that managers use are coercive. By creating a sense of powerlessness, coercive tactics can erode the sense of safety so essential to truth telling.
- Avoid killing the messenger, cold-shouldering the messenger, and blaming individuals for group failures.
- Create a sense of safety
- Punishing truth telling
drives Truth underground
- One great illusion about layoffs is our denial of their long-term costs — they reduce our sense of security. The certainty that someday layoffs will happen again can cause many to withhold, spin, or varnish the truth.
- Reduce staff as a true last resort — after spending cuts, after reducing management compensation, and after reducing employee compensation.
- Make truth telling a part of everyone's job
- In some organizational cultures, withholding truth is seen as loyalty. People who disclose bad news are sometimes seen as "ratting" on peers.
- Train people in disclosure. Encourage people to support each other in uncomfortable disclosure by sharing responsibility. Group responsibility makes truth telling easier.
None of this is enough, though, unless you prepare yourself. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, "It takes two to speak the truth — one to speak and another to hear." To get to the truth of anything, we must take responsibility for accepting the truth — even a difficult truth — when we find it. And that might be the most uncomfortable Truth about getting to the Truth. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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- Dramatic changes in policy or procedure are often challenging, especially when they have some boneheaded
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- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.
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- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached
the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the
race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical
drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project
sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore
lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look
at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read
more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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