The CEO of Costco was responding to a series of closed session questions from its senior leadership a few years ago and as Brene Brown recounts her concern at the atmosphere in the room at the time was antagonistic and angry. The questions were tough and Craig Jelinek’s responses were equally tough and often tougher. As the question time went on, Brown sank further and further into her seat dreading the fact that she had to follow this session with hers. Then, as if out of nowhere, at the conclusion of the session, the room responded by leaping to their feet, clapping and cheering. In her attempt to understand what was happening, Brown asked the woman next to her. She said, “At Costco, we clap for the truth.” Despite being hard, the truth remained the best strategy and was wholeheartedly embraced because the room KNEW they were being treated with respect and honesty. Truth was applauded over telling people what they wanted to hear.
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.”
Truth tellers are allowed to have short memories. They know that because if they told the truth last November it is the same then as it is now. They don’t have to manage stories, expectations or messaging. They told the truth then and they are telling the truth now. In our family we try our best to parent contextually. Find the highest point of connection and live from there. For example, in shops where there are breakable items we say ‘eyes only’ rather than ‘don’t touch anything.’ For a start, the latter is much harder for small children to obey, secondly the ‘eyes only’ request solves 99% of any problems we might have. In the same way we tell our kids that ’truth is celebrated, even when it’s hard.’ The goal is that we teach them to tell us whatever they need to tell us knowing we will celebrate their honesty before we address the content of the message.
Truth is celebrated. Works for grown ups too. And yet, it seems harder than it needs to be, at its worst we tolerate the water cooler conversations, protect the office gossip or even add our own fuel to all our undermining and conflict. Nothing, I repeat, nothing is gained by a protected toxic, secret, cowardly culture where the truth is not fully or appropriately shared.
We can confuse truth with the following five complications:
- Expectations – When we want something from others they can’t or don’t give us.
- Perspective – When we see the issues differently to the person speaking to us.
- Preference – When we want things to be done differently to what we observe.
- Experience – When we believe we have been treated harshly or unfairly.
- Bias – When we have a view that is opposed to the person speaking.
Clapping the truth is about communication, the right information at the right time to the right people for the right reason to get the right outcome. As Warren Wiersbe wisely said “truth without love is brutality, love without truth is hypocrisy.” Truth telling is an honest art.
The three steps to being a truth telling leader are:
- Authenticity – You are the same in private and public.
- Intention – Your motives are for the greater good.
- Service – You want your actions to make everyone more effective.
Clapping for Truth – Master Model
The model explained:
A culture that ’claps the truth’ commits to these three disciplines consistently:
- Asking honestly – Seeking feedback, asking questions, being curious, and making observations.
- Listening humbly – Creating the space for people to respond without fear of reprisal.
- Speaking directly – When the time comes, say what needs to be said in the most effective way.
When you build these disciplines into your leadership you create a high level culture that expects the truth to be told and is willing to take it as is, even when it’s tough. When you are honest and humble you maintain the relationship, avoiding the misuse of power and position. When you are honest and direct you know where you stand, enjoying a clarity that deepens trust. When you are humble and direct you invite people to take action. Action that is consistent with the mission, the message and the culture of your organisation or team. Truth telling allows you to deep trust, widen culture and speed up execution.
Steps to becoming a truth telling leader include:
- Look at your history. Is there a pattern of truth telling or message management?
- Evaluate your messaging. Are you telling the truth at the right time to the right people?
- Ask your hearers. What are they experiencing, hearing and doing?
- Adapt your communication. Blend both the courage and the clarity of right messaging.
- Expect action. Truth has momentum and trust attached to it. People can run with it.
Spencer Johnson said, “Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” Then we get to be leaders who can easily forget what we said in the knowledge that we told the truth last time, this game and will do so next time. For that, we applaud you.
This is for leaders. I am for leaders.