It’s simply amazing. No matter what unpleasant fact or revelation comes up, the standard government official’s response seems to be: “I didn’t know.” Either our political leaders are memory-impaired or they work in a culture where no one brings them the truth.
Guess what? That excuse may work for politicians if they can string it out long enough. But if you’re a business leader, you have to perform and to do that you have to know the truth about what’s going on. That’s easier said than done.
The higher you go up the org chart, the less likely you are to get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That’s because you have power and influence. People below you on the chart are wary of your power and want to curry influence.
You have to balance their reports with your own sources of information. Go and wander about. Listen to people of all kinds, workers and customers. Talk with people who disagree with you and those who will tell you the truth, no matter what.
You can’t change human nature or wave a wand and make the spin from your direct reports go away. But there are some things you can do to increase the completeness, accuracy, and timeliness of what you’re told. It boils down to acting like getting the truth is important to you.
When you get a report, probe for details until you feel like you’ve got the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. If you demand that, you’re more likely to get it.
Demanding the truth and working to get at it are important. But they don’t address the fear factor. The only way to conquer the fear factor is to treat truthful messengers well.
That’s hard to do. Truthful messengers will tell you things that make you angry or fearful. But those truthful messengers are valuable resources because they tell you things that you must know early enough to be successful.
Don’t kill them. If you kill messengers bearing bad news, you can expect four things.
- You can expect very few people to volunteer for messenger duty.
- You can expect people to put off telling you bad news until the last possible moment.
- You can expect people to spin their reports so that bad news sounds like good news.
- You can expect people to improve their upper body strength by throwing others under the bus.
Boss’s Bottom Line
You need the truth to do a good job. Develop independent sources of information. Treat truthful messages well.
What do you think?
How do you get the information that you need?
How do you keep your cool when you get bad news?