“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” - John 8:32
I saw a comment a while back on social media that essentially made a big deal out of the fact that someone was upfront, honest & truthful about a ‘difficult’ topic. To paraphrase the comment, it was something like this: “thanks for being honest because it’s so difficult to find anymore!” That instantly got me thinking if that was true with leadership… is it difficult to find leaders who are upfront, honest & truthful?
If we are honest, we know that many leaders ‘tap-dance’ around the truth to try to make it kinder and gentler on their recipients. Many of you reading this may have done this a time or two to ‘ease the pain’ for somebody, or to make it sound better than it is. However, is ‘tap-dancing’ around the truth helpful or hurtful to the people hearing it?
What may be our ‘best intentions’ can end very badly, especially when we try to alter the truth by trying to tone it down or soften it to how we think it should be told. The ‘whole truth’ seems to always have a way of surfacing, and when it does, the leader who decided to alter it will have to justify why they weren’t truthful. Not being totally honest can ultimately damage a leader’s integrity, credibility and trustworthiness with the people they lead.
Here’s a few tips to help leaders when there is ‘difficult truth’ to share:
Stick to the Facts
You can always have confidence in your words when you stick to the facts. Nobody can build a valid argument against the facts. The key is taking the time to gather all the facts about the situation before deciding what to say. Don’t jump to conclusions about the truth without all the facts.
Adjust your Approach, not the truth
After gathering all the facts, think about the people who you need to talk to and how they will react. If you know your people well enough (as all great leaders do), you will know how they react to what you need to tell them. Some may want you to get right to the point, so they can begin moving forward; others may need you to start with a friendly conversation, then ease the difficult truth to them so they can process it slowly. Whatever way you determine is best, be sure not to adjust or alter the truth.
I heard about this tip a very long time ago and it has stuck with me. Think about your words and response being on the front page of the newspaper or the top story on the local news channel. Would you undoubtedly stand behind what you are going to say, or would you second-guess yourself? If you are second-guessing yourself, reconsider what you will say. You will most likely second-guess yourself if you are altering the truth in any way.
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