As a leader within, or of, an organization/team you have the responsibility of facing the unadulterated truths that creep up from time to time. Sometimes they are things most would consider good news. At other times they are things that give you that special kind of migraine that feels like you were the ball at batting practice. Truth can take any form it likes whether we are prepared to hear it or not.

I find it amazing the number of leaders who feel, when the ugly truth arrives, they have this cosmic responsibility to shield those they’re leading from it. Perhaps it could be a genuine concern for their response to bad news, but more often than not they don’t have an answer for it that moment and so they keep it quiet until they do. Like the famous line from A Few Good Men with Jack Nicholson, the mantra of “You can’t handle the truth!” seems to govern these decisions.

While there are some things that are company sensitive information and should be closely guarded, this happens less often than people imagine. You have an entire organization whose best interest is to do what is good for the company. It creates job security for each one of them. Share with them the truth/challenges that have gotten you in a such a tizzy. Chances are they may have an opinion or suggestion that can ignite an amazing creative process.

You are one person. If you have a board, you are just a handful of people. It’s quite possible, and very likely, that you will approach these problems from familiar positions. By intelligently communicating the challenge a truth poses for the organization/team to everyone, you are leveraging the creativity of hundreds or even thousands of minds. That is some serious computing power!

Here are some tips to make sure you get the best from this:

  • Understand the REAL problem – Don’t sensationalize the emotion you feel about the problem. There are facts and that’s all you should be worried about at this point. Make sure you tease out all the possible options before you begin stating the “problem”. Sometimes the “problem” can be a result or symptom of something else entirely.
  • Don’t try to include a solution when you ask for suggestions – This is tough for some leaders because they want to appear competent. Simply state the problem, state that leadership is looking into possibilities and that the ideas of others are valued. Pretty simple really.
  • Don’t do it via email!!! – If this problem is significant enough, it shouldn’t be fired out in an email. People receive a ton of email per day and no matter your position, your email could be just another interruption to them finishing their tasks for the day. If you’re in a large organization, then plan a town hall style meeting by department. Make it casual and friendly.
  • Communicate the need for others’ opinions – This is an opportunity to show you truly value and trust your workforce. Let them know you believe that your organization has hired the best and the brightest and leadership believes in the creativity and brilliance of each person in the organization. People love to see leaders who are human and imperfect because they can more readily relate to them as a person.
  • Have a system in place to gather ideas – You can do all of the above perfectly, but if you haven’t set up a system where people’s ideas can easily get back to leadership it was all wasted effort. Prior to “going public”, work out a way that people can communicate ideas. Use your intranet. Set up a special email account just for this initiative. Be creative.

Organizations/teams have challenges and leadership won’t always have the answers. Leaning on your people is a sign of trust and that you value them. You will be amazed at the increase in productivity on the other side of doing this. Not only did you find a viable solution that will be given proper attention by your employees, but you will have created an emotional connection between them and the organization. That’s when the fun really kicks in.

  • Steve G

    Leadership Advisor –

    So true, some leaders try to shield the TRUTH from their teams. Or better yet, only share part of the truth (is that a lie?) to their staff. I think that actually comes down to trust, and how the staff is going to handle the problem. I believe that is the deeper issue for Leaders not being upfront with the truth (especially if the truth is bad news) Do you Trust your staff to be able to handle the TRUTH, and work towards a solution? Or do you feel they will crumble in the face of the TRUTH?

    As you point out, some leaders feel it is their responsibility to handle it all by themselves – maybe they feel it is their way of showing how STRONG a leader they are when facing challenging circumstances – that too is an issue – an issue of delegation.

    I can think of my own examples where I should have delegated or asked for assistance in handling a problem – my thoughts:

    As a leader, I felt I should take ownership of “The TRUTH” and deal with it on my own. Big mistake. The Truth is everyone’s concern.

    As a leader, I felt I would show my incompetence if I didn’t solve this problem by myself. Big Mistake. Part of being a leader is getting everyone involved, and developing a solution that addresses the TRUTH. (Because sometimes the TRUTH is deeper than what is most apparent.) As you clearly state… “Sometimes the “problem” can be a result or symptom of something else entirely.” And this is my favorite point of yours: Understand the Real Problem.

    Lastly, and I am a huge proponent of this…Don’t Use Email (Great Point!)

    Thanks for the strong insight and post – (and setting the record straight!)

    SPGonz

  • Thanks so much for your in depth opinions and contribution Steve. I appreciate your candor and honesty about your personal experience!

    Cheers,
    William

  • Great post! Especially the fine points for taking an open approach to discussing/solving the problem.

    I’ve made all the mistakes you mentioned and am in the process of challenging my organization, again – a church – with the facts to see if we together can’t find the solution. I’ve learned from the past that there is very little buy-in from the group if they aren’t involved in developing the solution.

    I used to think the problem was me. Only recently did I discover that it was more the process.

  • Thanks for being so painfully honest Ennis. Very astute of you to recognize that the problem lie in the process. Many leaders never have that realization. Sounds like you’re on the right path to continue building a great church. I appreciate your contribution!