The phrase “speaking the truth to power” was popularized in a 1955 book chronicling a Quaker alternative to violence designed to thwart forms of totalitarianism. It has been used in many forms, but mostly as a learning tool for those reporting to high powered business leaders, and especially politicians.
Who wants to be the bearer of bad or unflattering news? Who wants to hear bad or unflattering news?
I believe the answers to those two questions are: 1) Anyone with integrity and a sense of duty. 2) Anyone who wants to succeed. A leader who is looking for organizational and personal success (shouldn’t that be everyone?), wants to make the best decisions without requiring a “redo”.
Why would you want to hear unwelcome news?
- Get out ahead of the problem: “bad news doesn’t get better with time”
- Protect your organization, people and stakeholders from adverse outcomes
- Set the tone for your entire organization so that you are not blindsided with a problem
- Model personal integrity as the standard for everyone in your organization
Who are the people you should solicit such input from?
- Board members: They have a vested interest in your success, and you should welcome their feedback
- Business colleagues: Trusted advisors, both inside and outside of the organization, can offer a unique perspective that validates or challenges your assumptions
- Executive coach: A coach is an accountability partner whose sole purpose is to help bring out the best in you
- Spouse or significant other: Who has more invested in your welfare than your most trusted life partner. Plus, they should know you better than anyone.
The common thread among all these people are that they will understand your intentions, know your thought process, and will hold you accountable in a positive manner.
The famous movie producer Samuel Goldwyn is quoted as saying, “I don’t want any yes men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs.” I once said to the outside legal counsel for a holding company I worked for that “I was the type of person who would tell people the truth as I saw it”. His comment was, “I am not sure that is something valued in this organization”. In retrospect, I should have resigned shortly after hearing that comment, and predictable that situation ended poorly for me.
Having said that, I still believe that telling the truth as you see it, asking for advice and being vulnerable, while not being easy for someone in a position of authority, carries more benefits than risks. You will become a better leader, decision maker, and person. Your number one goal is to make the organization perform better and why not use all the input available to accomplish that. If you have questions on this topic, or your own personal experiences that you’d like to share, shoot me an email.