The truth is hard to find, not least if you are in charge. Your colleagues will frequently, whether they are conscious about it or not, give you the answer they believe you want, which is human. Let’s face it, if we were ordinary Russians and Vladimir Putin asked us a question we would be careful not to say anything that could get us into trouble.
On the other hand there are those who always contradict and complain to demonstrate that they are not yes sayers. However, if the person in charge is an autocrat speaking ones mind can have severe repercussions.
Then the defenders who are protective of themselves, members of their own department or whatever is important to them. On top of it, the ones looking after number one will say whatever it takes to further themselves.
Neither category are of help to a leader trying to find out what’s really going on or if an idea or proposal is of value to the company. Nor is the fact that we all interpret what we see or hear in different ways. Most people actually see and hear what they want or fear.
Do your colleagues feel safe enough to be honest?
If you are a good leader your colleagues know that they can tell you the truth. But even so, leaders fall into a different category than employees and it’s difficult to achieve the kind of complete openness you can have with close friends.
Employees are to some extent dependent on the leader. Even in a country like Sweden where it’s difficult to fire anyone getting the whole truth from colleagues is easier said than done.
So how do you overcome the fact that your colleagues are to some extent reliant on you and enable openness?
Let them be anonymous
Sometimes it’s a good idea to let staff give their opinion, or account of what’s going on, anonymously. That enables both constructive criticism and may bring out honesty in those afraid to appear like yes sayers. And anonymity could stop people from, say, protecting someone in their department.
Having said that, the kind of system some companies have where employees report colleagues for something they believe is wrong can also be abused by someone who, for instance, want to be promoted, simply doesn’t get along with a colleague or want to take revenge.
Leaders need to have psychological insight and intuition
It’s essential for a leader to be a good judge of character and have a gut feeling about what motivates another person and what’s going on. But unfortunately not all leaders have such qualities.
What can be done short of spying?
Apart from spying on staff, is it really possible for a leader to get the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Questionable, isn’t it?
The truth is in the eye of the beholder
Whenever something takes place and you have ten witnesses you have ten different accounts of what really happened. So maybe the closest it’s possible to get to the truth in such cases is what the accounts of the majority have in common? It’s hence important for a leader to have the judgement to make the best possible conclusion of what really happened.
As a leader you need to talk to someone who is not dependent on you and will be truly honest. Someone who gives you constructive positive and negative feedback. Who tells you the whole truth and gives you constructive criticism? Do you feel you get valuable and honest feedback from colleagues on proposals and ideas? How do you determine the whole truth about what’s really going on in a department where there is a problem? Do you know, or have a feeling about, who’s honest with you and who’s not? Is it ever possible for a leader to get the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Pictures: World Economic Forum