Leaders don’t always have the answers. Sometimes the answers are difficult to deliver. What do Healthy Leaders say when they don’t know what to say?
– Glen Llopis
Ah yes, the importance of speaking the truth. Truth matters. That hasn’t changed. I can remember reading The Leadership Challenge decades ago. When James Kouzes and Barry Posner reported the results of a monumental survey of thousands of people, I was intrigued. People were asked to identify the best qualities of leaders they would willingly follow and their responses sent a strong message. Consistently, the respondents bumped “honesty” to the top of the list. So, the idea that people are attracted to honest leaders instead of those who make it a regular practice to deceive their followers hasn’t changed. However, some things have changed.
Uncertainty creates an appetite for the truth
There is an increased appetite for truth today. As my mom used to say, “The truth will stand when the world’s on fire.” It may be an appropriate descriptor of your world. The reason the business climate has been described as VUCA is clear. We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. Daily demands for faster decision making make you feel as though your world’s on fire. When wrestling with uncertainty and what seems to be an overwhelming number of variables, knowing something that is true provides comfort.
Dan Llopis notes that uncertainty has increased and “people have grown tired of surprises.” Employees want to exist in a work environment that allows for greater clarity of thought. They want a leader that is trustworthy. Leaders need to be reminded of the obvious. Without honesty, trust suffers. When employees are wrestling with uncertainty, the last thing they need to wrestle with is whether a leader was telling the truth. You want something, someone you can count on.
Social Media has opened a door
For leaders who gained influence “before” instead of “after” our current level of social media saturation, it’s hard to grasp how the “open door” has shaped thinking about transparency. For younger employees, sharing is second nature. People walk in and out of digital doors that were once considered personal space with an astounding level of frequency and ease. My immediate purpose is not to engage in a critique of what should and shouldn’t be shared. Rather, the purpose is to shed light on the fact that people have an increased appetite for knowing the leaders they follow. Leading and following is becoming more personal and less about position or title. Followers are able to examine and measure the honesty and integrity of leaders across many sources of information.
Leaders share more information
The door is open. The expectation for sharing has increased and information abounds. How do transparent leaders steward all this information? Recently, Fred Johnson, InitiativeOne CEO asked a group of leaders, “Will you choose to manage information or will you choose to lead with information?” The question provides a contrast between people who more concerned about avoiding uncomfortable conversations than they are with providing truthful information that will enable the best decisions. Johnson’s description of managing information unveils the temptations that transparent leaders overcome. Managing information can morph into massaging information. It can become a method of control, whereas a courageous choice to lead with information is a pathway toward empowering others for peak performance. Whether information is good or bad, comfortable or uncomfortable, people expect leaders to share and they expect leaders to be honest. The truth is a necessary ingredient for employee engagement, satisfaction and personal growth.