We all hate being lied to, but we don’t always want the truth. One of my colleagues said that the other day, and it struck me that this is often a problem with leadership. Leaders ask for the truth all the time, but then we do several things that keep people from telling us.
We cannot lead if we do not know the condition of our organization. This information takes the form of data, key performance indicators, various reports and dashboards, and other forms of information. For this information to be useful, it must be accurate and presented without intentional bias.
What would cause someone to present data to us in a limited or biased way? More importantly, what do we do that causes this? While there are probably as many reasons as there are people, we can boil things down to a few motivations that we have either caused or that we can work to eliminate: a need for acceptance, embarrassment, a lack of trust, and fear of anger.
A need for acceptance
People want to feel accepted. I say “feel” because claiming that we accept people when they don’t experience the feeling of acceptance is kind of silly. When something isn’t quite right or a project is off track, it is tempting to either hide the complete reality or even lie about the situation to not experience rejection.
Telling the truth can feel like giving up control. When someone has disappointing information to share, I can help them by listening carefully, keeping my body language open, and then communicating my appreciation for their candor. While I may be frustrated, I can ask direct and clear questions about the next steps they will take and what I should expect going forward.
Sometimes people feel inadequate or even foolish and are concerned that if they speak up, they will be embarrassed or even ridiculed. This fear often leads to people not saying things they know or have seen when that information could be useful. This can be especially difficult for newer team members if there are people around with significant tenure.
I would never knowingly and openly ridicule someone, and I don’t believe you would either. However, when someone already feels inadequate, it doesn’t take much to confirm their feelings. I can be careful about the words I select and the tone of my voice to ensure I am communicating that I value the person and the information they are sharing. Use humor sparingly in these situations.
A lack of trust
It is very difficult to share information that might put us in a bad light with someone we do not trust. Asking someone for unbiased results or data puts them in a vulnerable position. Giving another person raw information or complete data opens the door for their interpretation, which is scary. You don’t want to be in a scary situation with someone you don’t trust.
Trust is complex, but it always starts with an action that creates vulnerability. It is my responsibility as a leader to lead in this respect. I can help generate trust by acknowledging when I am wrong, uncertain, or don’t have the answer. People know I am not always right, so being honest about this is a very powerful way to show that I trust people; then my vulnerability helps them trust me.
Fear of anger
I wish I didn’t have to write about this one, but sometimes people lie to us because they are afraid of the results of our anger when the reality does not match our expectations. There are very few situations in leadership that call for a display of anger. This does not mean we won’t feel angry, but we cannot act on that emotion without damaging our people and our team.
When kids are young, and their emotions are out of control, we often see their parents use a “time out” to help them calm down and get themselves under control. I can use this same technique when my emotions are overwhelming. It is much better to set a later meeting and move away from the present situation than to move forward and subject everyone to inappropriate or even abusive behavior.
I hate to be lied to, but I also need to develop a taste for the truth and seek it by making it easier for people to tell me the truth. Caring for and serving our people means giving them the gift of being able to be completely honest with us. It is a very daring thing to do, and it is The Kimray Way.