By Chuck Lauer
Most of us try to be truthful when dealing with others, whether in our personal or professional lives.
It's what we have been taught by our parents, and what we have learned as we go through school and graduate from college. At least that's the way I have always felt is the right way to do things and I know most of you would agree. However, in business especially it can be very difficult at times to be truthful with the boss for any number of reasons.
Earlier today I sat with four prominent business executives. The topic of truthfulness came up and it had to do with how to help the CEO of a company do his or her job. It seems the consensus among the execs was that they felt too often, trusted c-suite execs just don't have the courage to tell the top person the honest to goodness truth about things. Maybe it's because they are afraid they may not get that bonus or raise they are hoping for. Maybe it's as simple as not wanting to hurt the feelings of the boss or just maybe they worry that if they tell the truth about what’s happening with sales or morale or product lines, the boss will not look upon them with favor.
You have all been in business long enough so that you know what I am talking about. It's out there and I've personally witnessed companies that have gone into down swings because the person at the top wasn't told the whole story of what was going on in the marketplace. As one executive put it, getting to the truth under any circumstances is essential to making correct decisions.
He even told the story of meeting with the CEO and a number of other executives at a company where he used to work when one of his associates told the CEO an absolute falsehood. Later after the meeting, my friend said he asked the offending exec why he lied to the boss and that person admitted, “That’s what he wants to hear." So, maybe the reason the boss doesn't get the truth is because she has set a negative tone whereby candor and honesty are frowned upon.
One of the essential traits of a top, effective CEO, or any boss for that matter, is to have the intellectual courage to listen to those who truly want to give them the truth without being penalized for doing so. We all know that many CEOs have strong egos and they simply don't want to hear anything that could be construed as negative or critical of their stewardship. Those individuals rule by fear and when things get out of hand, they look for others to blame for their own failings.
True leaders want the truth. They want to know what they have to do to make their organization successful and viable. Having a bunch of yes people around them isn't going to get the job done.
Years ago I worked for an organization that had a less than desirable reputation with the public. Because I had just been promoted to the job of director of communications, it was my job to tell the board and the CEO how the outside perceived them and the company. Before I did this, however, I did my homework and had a lot of data supporting my thesis that changes had to made. Frankly, I was scared to death that I would lose my job by doing what I felt was the right thing to do. I gave my presentation to the board and then was invited to leave the room.
Quite a bit of time went by before the CEO called me into his office. I really didn't know how things would turn out and was already wondering how I would break the news to my wife if I lost my job. Well, it worked out just about as good as it could get. The CEO told me that what I had done had in reality saved his job and that he was grateful that I had had the integrity and courage to do what I did. I have never forgotten the lesson that I learned by doing what I did and I have always felt that telling the truth, no matter what the circumstances, is essential to success and growth.
Most of my life I have been a salesman. I have had different titles, but basically selling has been the profession I have always practiced. Luckily I had bosses who mentored me in my career who practiced what they preached and that were always telling the truth to prospects and customers. It's called having integrity and without integrity, we have nothing!
In any business or personal relationship, truthfulness is essential if that relationship is to grow and prosper. Overpromising to a customer is probably one of the worst sins a salesman can commit because later when you overpromise and can't keep your promise you are going to lose that account. The same thing could be said about marriage. Divorce courts are filled with disillusioned husbands and wives whose mates didn't tell the truth. It is simply a sad fact of life.
So what is the lesson to be taken away from all this? It is to be truthful no matter what the circumstances right from the beginning because sooner or later white lies, exaggerations and false promises will reveal themselves and those types of things destroy trust, and even love, forever. Truth and courage go hand in hand. Without truth, there simply isn't any substance to a relationship whether in business or personally. Great leaders know this truth.