I remember my mom telling me early on that “words matter.” Once you say something it cannot be unsaid. Even if you apologize and/or make excuses, the imprint on another person’s brain is still there. And, sometimes the repercussions can last for years or even a lifetime. There are many situations where I wish I […]
Far too many people think that leadership is about style over substance these days. It’s almost as if it is more important to look and sound like a leader rather than behave like one. I wonder if historical figures like Abraham Lincoln with his high pitched nasally voice ad physical awkwardness or George Washington who was personally aloof and somewhat stiff in public settings would even stand a chance today. When a society starts spending more time focusing on how things appear rather than how they truly are, we as a people are in trouble. It is the content of someone’s character that matters most when tough decisions need to be made. We are in serious times both geopolitically and socioeconomically. We need deliberative thinkers who think before they act, don’t rush to judgment, have the ability to prioritize amongst competing issues, stay cool under pressure, maintain a reasonable level of consistency in their actions and messaging, build alliances rather than make enemies, and tell us the truth even when it is unpopular. The presidency shouldn’t be just a popularity contest.
Imagine if someone was rushed to the Emergency Room of a hospital with severe symptoms of something wrong and then decided to tell the doctor that that it was no big deal and then selectively shared information about their true physical state. You would think this person was being irresponsible with their health. This happens all the time in business. Leaders let their pride and ego get in the way and it prevents them form being forthright and honest at the very time they need to be. I’ve seen many a business go down the tubes that didn’t have to because the leader was slow to act, slow to ask for help and unwilling to face reality. Avoidance rarely works in business or life.
It may take awhile but most liars eventually get caught. There is a great saying that “if you don’t want to forget what you did, then always tells the truth.” I also like the common refrain these days that “…the cover-up is often worse than the crime.” Honesty matters! If people feel like that they should regularly question what you are telling them, then they won’t trust you. This is a problem that many our current (and past) political leaders have to deal with and it is of their own making. All you have to do is turn on the TV or read a newspaper or magazine and there is ample evidence of individuals dealing with the consequences of being caught in a lie.
Most of us prefer to occupy the realm of opinions rather than facts – whether we’d like to believe it or not. Instead of taking the time to actually prove something or find out the truth, it is much easier to form an opinion based on personal experience, values, attitude, hearsay, etc. This is especially true in our media where people with strong opinions (often with minimal or no grounding in the facts) dominate the airwaves. We’ve become a society dedicated to the easy answer and convenience in all things. It is certainly much easier and self-satisfying (we think) to find someone who represents our own point of view rather than pushes us to grow and challenge this perspective.
Quite a few people bemoan the length of our presidential primaries and other election campaigns these days – I don’t. People can keep up an act or tell you what you want to hear for a short period of time, but when they get exhausted by the rigors of a long campaign and tired of answering the same old questions the same old way, the eventually will slip up and say what they truly feel or believe. In addition, when you are speaking to a niche audience with a particular ideology or playing to the base, it takes a strong personality to say what you believe they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Whether you agree with him or not, Ron Paul (who has no chance of winning) has been fairly consistent on this front while the others seem to adjust their rhetoric to fit the moment and forget their own checkered past. The good news is that when people get tired and consistently challenged they usually end up telling the truth. Rick Santorum is a case in point this past week.
Leadership Thought #268 – Always Remember To Have The Courage Of Your Convictions and Speak Your Truth
Not every audience is ready to hear what you have to say but say it anyway if you believe in your message. Sometimes a little resistance is good. It forces you to work on your delivery and thought process. It also means you may be challenging conventional wisdom and forcing people to get outside of their comfort zone. A leader’s job is not to make everyone happy or validate individual misconceptions but rather to put a spotlight on the truth as he/she sees it. Conflict and misunderstanding are part of life, but when managed properly they can lead to deeper agreement, greater commitment and better results. Never fall into the trap of telling people what they want to hear unless it also aligns with what they need to hear.
I see people get themselves in trouble all the time by be unwilling to admit they don’t know something. At minimum, they make their lives harder than it has to be. They also make things more challenging for the people around them because someone usually has to pick up after them or cover up the mistake. Politicians are notorious for speaking confidently about things they know very little about (have you watched any of the recent debates). Rather than look uninformed or stupid they prefer to spin the truth or some version of it. Why we continue to reward this behavior in the voting booth is beyond my comprehension.
I’ve seen more damage done in organizations and families by people saying what they think the other person wants to hear rather than telling them the truth. The whole concept of “white lies” has become commonplace and most people go through life telling them on a daily basis. Instead of dealing with realty (or at least our version of it) we prefer to not to risk the discomfort and awkwardness of being honest.
There are very few beliefs that can actually backed up as truths. Most things in life are open to interpretation. And, interpretation is mostly a subjective exercise. No one person has all the answers or a full understanding of the facts.