2016 is an election year. Along with that comes the spin zone! It often involves a lack of civility along with an inability to speak the truth, especially to those in power. It would be easy to point our finger at the political landscape and miss the personal applications to our home space and workplace.
Speaking Truth to Power Is a principle that must work its way into all of our relationships.
“I don’t want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their jobs!” —Samuel Goldwyn, American Film Producer
Truth-telling is never easy and can become a daunting challenge, especially in the face of “groupthink” which values consensus over reality. It has become a lot more comfortable to spin the truth than tell it as it is.
And even more, we see rudeness and a lack of civility disguised as truth-telling. Facebook (and other media) is often a depository for comment without thought.
“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for freedom of thought which they seldom use.” Soren Kierkegaard
Truth should never outrun civility or compassion.
Here are 6 principles to consider in our quest to speak the truth….
1. Be intentional in developing a truth-telling culture. It’s one thing to say you want your people to speak the truth. It’s another thing to eliminate both seen and unseen barriers that make it difficult to do. A toxic culture can (subtly or not so subtly), punish people for telling the truth. Unofficial sanctions, peer acceptance, avoidance of embarrassment, and promotion are some potential barriers. Being labeled as not-a-team-player is a subtle way to shutdown disagreement.
2. Fear the lie more than the mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. But more destructive than the error is the lack of self-correction which often leads to cover up. Lying to others is harmful. Lying to ourselves is even more destructive. The #1 focus should not be damage control, but honest analysis. In the long run this IS the best damage control. The truth always finds its way out. The more you assist it, the better off you’ll be.
“Hang a lantern on your mistakes.”
3. Be a wisdom worker, not just a knowledge worker. Wisdom looks for the truth. Peter Drucker coined the term knowledge worker. Today, more than ever, our jobs require us to use our heads, not just our hands. We are hired heads. And our brains work best when they are committed to the truth. Giving our best efforts includes giving our best thoughts. This transforms our knowledge into wisdom.
4. Speaking the truth takes (personal) courage. In the 1932 Winston Churchill saw the future menace of Germany that was rapidly rearming. It was obvious to him that the Nazi Party under Hitler was growing into a worldwide problem. France’s government was corrupt. America’s government was indifferent. Britain’s government was pacifist. Yet as unpopular as it was, he referred to his own country’s position as “mush, slush, and gush”. Nobody wanted to hear that. It takes courage to say what is needed in the midst of the powerful attraction of peer acceptance.
5. Receiving the truth takes (personal) humility. As a leader, listen to the truth. The difference between alarms and alarmism is more discernable when we are committed to the truth more than our idea or plan. This takes humility, and what Jim Collins refers to as “egoless clarity.”
6. A commitment to the truth leads to action. Success depends on correcting a plan or pattern as early as possible. Prior to the 2008 Financial Crisis, there were those who seemed to understand the gravity of the situation before it happened. They saw warning signs. Even those who listened and spoke out waited too long to act. I am not minimizing the difficulty of the situation. The point is that receiving the truth requires action. Most situations are not as difficult or as complicated as economic forecasting. (The alarm bells are sounding again as we begin 2016.) Yet without a commitment to action, the continual delay only makes the situation worse.
In an election year it is difficult to avoid the spin zone. It’s even harder to demonstrate ethical leadership when you are not in charge. Yet, it is our first and foremost responsibility, both as a superior and a subordinate. This commitment forms a powerful partnership of equals.