Honesty is rather simple. We each have our version of the truth and we can come to understand what’s true in a situation when exchanging information with each other.
At the same time, receiving what’s true from others means being able to hear those truths without feeling destabilized, anxious or overwhelmed. In other words, knowing that whatever happens, everything will be ok. That’s using human-centric leading, which assumes that everyone is inherently valuable and that all the problems that surface exist to be solved rather than to fear that we’re not good enough if we can’t or don’t fix them pronto.
Want the truth?
To be given the truth from your staff — or anyone you meet, for that matter, two components become important:
- to listen without judgement
- to feel good about yourself regardless of what you’re told or what happens
Listen without judgement
If you can listen without judging, congratulate yourself! You’re one in a few.
The education system, based on reward and punishment, socializes us to hear and judge. This is part of the legacy industry model that still exists today, where things are judged as good or bad and the bad apple theory prevails. Within this environment, leaders across strata are often told by their staff what it seems they want to hear, rather than what’s really happening. This leaves leaders ignorant of important perspectives and facts that they should or need to know. It even leaves them feeling like they’re not getting the whole picture, even if unsure as to what to do about it. For instance, how many people were ignored or silenced for the 2010 PG&E California pipeline explosion to occur? It’s not the type of accident that was based on one mistake. Or how many people does it take to avoid speaking up against the multitude of unprovoked police violence for this problem to continue to proliferate?
If people aren’t speaking up in your family or work contexts, they’re afraid of something. Are they afraid of you / your reaction or the consequences of sharing their truth in a more general sense?
Of course, nothing and no one is doomed. With some self-awareness and patience, you can learn to listen without judgement if you’re not already doing so. This means staying neutral about what’s being said and accepting that everyone has his/her truth, so everyone is “right” from his/her perspective. In that context, you can wonder, “If everyone is right, then what?”
If you listen without judgement, you’ll hear what’s said and isn’t said. You’ll learn about all sorts of things that are invisible yet important (relationships, politics, agreements, inter-departmental fights, funding, etc.), which inform the ways you respond. People crave sharing what’s important to them, whether it’s an idea that can change the trajectory of a company or a concern about possible or existing problems that can derail key projects. The more you listen without judgement, the more informed you are as a leader and the more problems you can help solve and the bigger contribution you can make with the least amount of energy expended.
Feel good about yourself
At the same time, listening without judgement requires being ok with whatever is said. This is a behavior that’s supported by specific feelings. For instance:
I feel good about myself –> people tell me of a problem –> I remain calm and grounded –> I focus on the challenge
I feel anxious –> people tell me of a problem –> I worry that I can’t solve it –> I worry that I could be fired –> I focus on protecting my job
This small example highlights that thoughts lead to feelings that lead to actions. It also reminds us that in organizational life, where people are treated as cogs in a wheel, people inadvertently focus on protecting their jobs more than the challenges at hand. No blame, it’s the context that creates that need for self-preservation. It’s a survival reaction that’s promoted, when it would be better for everyone to design a context in which everyone could thrive, instead. Nobody reacts in fear or self-preservation when treated with respect and presented with challenges they are happy to solve, without possible consequences that affect their livelihood.
How to feel good in organizational contexts based on threats?
The implicit threat in organizational life is: if you don’t do what’s expected, you’ll get replaced. So, how to stay calm, grounded and without fear when you’re considered a replaceable cog in a wheel?
Develop your inner certitude that you can handle whatever happens. A short anecdote: when I worked at the World Bank, one of my bosses told me, “Work like you don’t care if you get fired.” I took his advice and even when I was sure I’d be fired on numerous occasions, I haven’t been fired yet. Being bold and doing what’s best for the team and the goal at hand requires specific beliefs, assumptions or stories: if I believed that being fired meant that I’m “not successful” or “a shame,” then I wouldn’t do it. If I thought that getting fired means angering a boss who wanted to hide the truth (as an example), then it’s easier to do. Whistle blowers know full well the consequences of their actions, yet still proceed for the greater good. The stories we tell ourselves and each other affect how we think, feel and act.
Other ways of feeling good regardless of what happens:
- lead from the Acropolis, where you can see things from a distance and detach yourself from fears
- develop your self-trust, self-respect, self-appreciation to be able to stand by your beliefs
- make decisions according to a vision or values rather than merely self-interest
- question your fears, use your emotions as data for that matter and inquire as to what your emotions are telling you about your real level of safety
- save money; live within your means
- stay abreast of what’s happening on the job market
- bring others into your vision, so that you’re partnered with others
- create stories about yourself that describe who you are as a person with inherent value, rather as a function of your career, visible achievements, position power, etc.
Notice your own experience with truth
Here are few questions that prove helpful when reflecting about the truth:
- what do you assume about the truth?
- do you accept that everyone is “right” from his/her point of view
- do you compelled to prove you’re “right” and someone else is “wrong?”
- do you find out what happens on your team after others do?
- are you ever surprised about news that you feel you “should” have known? how do you react when that happens?
- do you feel that people hide things from you? how does that make you feel? how do you react?
- do you notice that you avoid feeling certain feelings? maybe feeling sad, anxious, uncertain, angry, lost, etc/ what does feeling in those ways mean to you?
- have you ever asked people how they feel in reference to sharing “good” and “bad” news with you? (I used to ask my colleagues and staff in corporate life, “What type of news do you think I prefer?”)
- how might you start seeing yourself, in the bigger realm of things, that makes you feel better, more grounded, more safe in an uncertain world?
Let me know how it goes!
[Image from Freepik]