A LITTLE THING THAT MATTERS —-
Truth telling, of course, seems an obvious recommendation for any manager and not exactly a little thing. But here I am not referring to the need to avoid the BIG lie. Only the most foolish managers would, for example, claim a college degree they did not earn, steal from their company and attempt to lie about it, or promise a subordinate something they could not possibly deliver.
Yet countless managers shade the truth about a great many things. In an effort to put a positive gloss on reality, perhaps a manager emphasizes only what serves that purpose, or he or she fails to communicate certain facts which a more balanced presentation would require. Telling the truth as I mean it here, amounts to leveling with people on a consistent basis.
One of my favorite passages in the “Harry Potter” series occurs in book four, “Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire”. The Dark Lord, Voldemort, has returned and has murdered a student at the Hogwarts School for wizards. Headmaster Albus Dumbledore is about to address the student body and provide some explanation of events.
“Cedric Diggory was murdered by Lord Valdemar”, he announces. “The Ministry of Magic does not wish me to tell you this. It is possible that some of your parents will be horrified that I have done so — either because they will not believe that Lord Voldemort has returned or because they think I should not tell you so, young as you are. It is my belief, however, that the truth is generally preferable to lies, and that any attempt to pretend that Cedric died as a result of an accident, or some sort of blunder of his own, is an insult to his memory.” (P. 722)
How’s that for leveling with people and an author’s making a point regarding respect for others?
Most of us, in fact, admire those we know who are unafraid to tell it like it is. We recognize the inherent respect for others contained in the act of frankness. We appreciate the absence of spin when it comes to sharing the hard facts with adults, so that they know exactly what they are facing.
The best managers share this appreciation for the importance of leveling with others and employ candor whenever possible. It is not about being blunt or harsh. Nor does frankness require a lack of feeling or empathy. Rather it is always about the facts — pleasant or unpleasant — and the belief that others are best able to cope when the know the true and full story.
Still many managers, like politicians, are prone to withhold information or deny the actual facts for fear it will hurt them in some way, or out of concern that others can not handle the truth. On countless occasions during my management career I sat in closed rooms and heard the phrase “for this room only”. On each of those occasions, two thoughts came instantly to mind. First, there was every likelihood that many outside the room already knew what was about to be said, so who was fooling who. Second, if nobody actually knew something was afoot, the suspicion that it might be would lead to a vigorous round of “making things up” — overwhelmingly negative things — which would then become the hallway rumors of the day.
Working for a manager who consistently provides “the straight skinny” helps those entrusted to her or his management skills feel confident that they will always know where matters — both personal and organizational — stand. The habit of providing the facts without layers of shading and politically correct varnish, establishes a foundation of trust that can only improve purposeful effort and performance. Being glib and eloquent is great but being straight with those you manage is even better.