Saturday, February 13, 2010

Leaders Who Handle The Truth

In the 1992 blockbuster film, A Few Good Men, Navy lawyer Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise, and Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway, played by Demi Moore, are assigned to defend two Marines accused of killing a fellow soldier.

Kaffee is inclined to plea out the case but Galloway pushes him to investigate deeper. He begins a process of questioning fellow officers to get to the truth. The quest eventually leads them to base commander Colonel Nathan Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson.

The courtroom confrontation between Kaffee and Jessep is one of big screen legend. Kaffee insists that he is entitled to the truth about the case. In the memorable response Jessep says, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Truthfulness is an essential ingredient through which leadership flows and how all other relationships within your organization exist. This concept sounds primal but is one of which we need to be reminded.

Winston Churchill said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” If your organization is going to thrive, the truth must always win out. Here are a few suggestions for leaders and for making honesty your best policy.

Leaders must speak the truth. Mark Twain said, “Truth is more of a stranger than fiction.” Whether it is casting vision for the future of the organization, evaluating the performance of the team or a team member, leaders must speak the truth.

When a leader is speaking honestly with those around him, trust is established. While it is easy to speak the truth when the news is good, it is equally as important to do so when times are tough. Though it may be tempting to fudge the numbers or hold back information, your team should never be left in the dark- always speak the truth.

Leaders must hear the truth. Burton Bigelow said, “Very few big executives want to be surrounded by ‘yes’ men. Their greatest weakness often is the fact that ‘yes’ men build up around the executive a wall of fiction, when what the executive wants most of all is plain facts.” A wise leader does not want to be shielded from the truth, but exposed to it.

Speaking the truth to the leader must be done constructively and with respect. John Maxwell said, “If you’ve never spoken up to your leaders and told them what they need to hear, then it will take courage. But if you are willing to speak up, you can help your leader and yourself.” Examine your motives when speaking to your leader. Be sure that you are not just about promoting your own agenda but the best interests of the team.

Leaders must act on the truth. Decisions leaders make today have consequences for the organization tomorrow. A sharp leader has the intuition to see what is going on around him and is surrounded by honest advisors to help chart the right course.

The climatic conclusion of A Few Good Men resulted in the arrest of Colonel Jessep and a courtroom victory for the young Daniel Kaffee. While your team or organization may experience tough challenges, never let it be said that in doing so you ever shied away from the truth.

Acting on the truth is the benchmark to which all leaders must be pledged. In doing so, not only can you handle the truth, but you welcome it.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

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