One of the best pieces of dialogue from a movie is the famous part of “A Few Good Men” with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. It’s the line where Nicholson says “You want the Truth.”
Except he never said that.
He never said “YOU want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”
The real truth is many people have been quoting “A Few Good Men” wrong for years. Jack Nicholson actually says “You want answers?” Then Tom Cruise says “I think I’m entitled to them!” Nicholson asks again “You want answers?” To which Cruise replies “I want the truth!”
It is only then that Nicholson serves up the famous line “You can’t handle the truth!”
We don’t even know the truth around perhaps the most famous movie line about truth ever.
Leaders struggle with the truth too. They don’t, at least most don’t, struggle with telling the truth, they struggle with being told the truth. Most leaders don’t know they struggle with this because they naively believe their people trust them enough to always be truthful.
However, given the nature of power and authority, it is actually common for people to limit the information they provide to their leaders. They might think that they are protecting themselves or a colleague from the leaders wrath…or worse. They might even think they are in some way protecting their leader but in either case it is unlikely that the leader is always getting a clear picture of what’s going on in their organization.
Many leaders may not like this, they may not want to hear it or believe it but the truth of the matter is, very often the information they receive from their people is at least “filtered” to some degree. It may even be an outright lie.
If you’re a leader who truly wants the truth from your people, consistently and bias free, then you will need to help them deliver it to you. Help them by actively seeking this kind of communication without punishing them, in any way, for the content.
Always ask for differing opinions, encourage people to provide you the real story, ask them to trust you enough to share the truth. (Yes, one of the major reasons your people don’t tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth is that they don’t trust you’ll handle it well)
When I say don’t “punish” them for the content I mean don’t punish them in any way. DO NOT get defensive. DO NOT raise your voice. DO NOT tell them they are wrong. In fact, DO NOT react in any way that would give anyone the impression that you are the least bit unhappy about what you just heard. DO NOT react in any way that would give anyone any reason to believe that they could be in “trouble” for telling you the truth or having an opinion that may differ from yours.
Just say “thank you for the courage to share that with me. Let me think on that for a bit and when I have my head around it we can talk again.”
If you want the truth then you had better be prepared to handle it. Your facial expressions, your tone of voice, and your words really do matter.
You know that you perform better when you have better, more truthful information. You also need to know that you won’t get it if your people think it’s too “dangerous” to give it to you. If you want the truth you’re going to have to work for it. That “work” likely includes changing some of your behavior to help your people feel more comfortable when providing the information you need to truly lead.
And that’s the truth of the matter.