Business Transformation

Leaders: What’s Your Strategy for Truth?

Antonio Garrido

What percentage of the time do your people tell you ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’?  

Hint: it is never 100 percent. 

Our people typically tell us a version of the truth that they think is in their best interest to have us believe. They do this for lots of reasons including fear of reprisal, lack of trust, fear of blame, or fear of your critical response–remember, you likely sign their paycheck, after all. 

President George H. W. Bush once bemoaned how many games of golf he lost since leaving the White House. 

Something to think about. 

The single most important currency of leadership is truth: no matter what industry, size of organization, or market. The trouble is the truth is often in short supply–especially so for leaders. Why? Well, we are the boss and it’s really difficult to challenge the boss despite all of the times we might encourage them to do so. 

Can You Handle The Truth? 

Without wanting to parody Jack Nicholson’s memorable line in Rob Reiner’s 1992 film, A Few Good Men, can you handle the truth? 

Bad leaders largely want to be left alone: they’re doing just fine they tell themselves. These kinds of leaders definitely don’t want to hear the truth. 

Poor leaders don’t want to trade in truth at all. The truth can be tricky. Unpalatable decisions might have to be made. 

Average leaders want to be given a little guidance every now and again, because, well, largely they know that they’re really rather smart and can figure stuff out with the occasional bit of advice or steer. They occasionally want to hear the truth–only the ‘convenient truth’, however.  

Good leaders want to be coached, and they welcome being held accountable by others. They want to hear the truth, but not to the extent that they always have to act on it, not if it makes them feel too uncomfortable. 

Great leaders, however, proactively hold themselves to a very high standard of personal growth and self-development. They demand the truth of themselves and others, and they act on it–they make decisions that will change the trajectory of the business based on it.  

As Brené Brown says, “It’s really important to have people who speak truth to our bullshit.” 

The problem is these brave truth-speaking folk are few and far between…and that’s probably our fault too. 

The Idiot General 

Napoléon Bonaparte–the French military and political leader–had a brilliant plan to deal with the noise of ‘convenient truths’. 

Bonaparte was acutely aware of the importance of “speaking truth to the leader’s bullshit.” So much so that he developed a battle strategy that won him half the world.

He would meet with his generals in his forward tent outside the walls of the city he intended to besiege. Napoléon, while poring over the maps and reading reports from the advanced scouting parties, sent one of his most trusted generals out of the tent so he would not hear any of the ensuing conversations between the senior group. However, once the battle plans were laid, the idiot general was invited back into the tent to learn of the proposed plan.  

The “idiot general,” knowing nothing (hence the unfortunate moniker), was then asked to explain why the battle plan that had been suggested would not work–he was invited to pick holes and find fault in both the strategy and the tactics. The reason that this unorthodox strategy was so effective is that he had no idea which particular ideas were Napoléon’s and which came from others. It’s the perfect strategy to deal with “yes-men”–and, being the Emperor of France, yes-men were in no short supply.  

Are you, like Napoléon, surrounded by yes-men? 

Ask them, they’ll almost definitely say “no,” right? 

What’s your strategy for truth?

Remember earlier when I asked what percentage of the time do your people tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

Ask yourself what percentage of the time you tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? 

How about resolving to adopt a gold-standard leadership principle—always, always, always tell your people the truth. 

The number one secret to start getting the truth from others is to always tell them the truth first. And, when others are brave enough to tell you the unvarnished, uncensored, unabridged, uncomfortable truth, no matter how unsavory it might be, you simply must wholeheartedly thank them for their candor and honesty (remember, what gets rewarded, gets repeated) and resist falling into the weak leaders last refuge – the holy Trinity of poor leadership: defend, justify, or rationalize.  

Self-Awareness Is Tricky 

The best leaders always tell the truth to others, and to themselves. Telling yourself the truth is much more difficult than telling it to others 

How good are you at dealing in the truth that you tell yourself? Doesn’t it always seem to be the case that the worse we are at something, the better we believe we are; and the better we are at something, the worse we know we are? 

Are you feeling brave enough to take a Leadership Assessment that specifically measures your leadership self-awareness scores and benchmarks you against the best of the best, or would you rather keep telling yourself that good enough is, well, good enough? 

Visit www.mydailyleadership.com/leadershipassessment ….you know, if you think you can handle the truth.


Written by Antonio Garrido.
Have you read?
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Antonio Garrido
Antonio Garrido, author of MY DAILY LEADERSHIP: A Powerful Roadmap for Leadership Success, has over twenty-five years in senior leadership positions with world-class businesses. He is an expert in leadership transformation: shaping high-performance leaders out of highly stressed and overworked leaders. He is a serial entrepreneur, successful business coach, author, charismatic speaker, and works with leaders from small private businesses, right up to Fortune-60 size.


Antonio Garrido is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.