In the military, not knowing the whole truth can be deadly. But the truth is, the whole truth can be scary. It's far easier to share the watered down version of the bad news, or the "truth" with one or two minor omissions.
Your troops decide what you can handle. If you've got a short trigger, or a propensity to rush in and help, they'll go a bit slower to put all their cards on the table. Like parents protecting young children, they'll safeguard you and themselves. They'll anticipate your reactions and work around them.
Your troops may even throw in a few things "they're worried about," to make you feel better.
Don't blame them. Previous leaders have taught them well. Well-intended intensity sends troops to the nearest diaper genie to package their story. To get the real deal, avoid these common traps.
How To Ensure You Won't Hear The Truth
- Rush To Fix It – They've got this. Your "fix" may aggravate the situation. Escalating may damage relationships they've been working hard to develop. Instead ask how you can best help without rushing in or pulling rank.
- Model It – Your team watches how you manage up. Watch what filtering you model. They're picking up these skills from you. Show them how you give your boss bad news.
- Freak Out – Breathe. Nothing will shut them down more than high-emotions.
- Use It Against Them – They don't want their mistakes to haunt them. If you don't know, you can't "ding" them. Encourage them to come to you with problems and solutions. Commend them for their honesty, and if it's not an honest mistake, do your best to let it go.
- Assign More Work – They're already overwhelmed working the issue. Roll up your sleeves to brainstorm solutions, but don't just start assigning to-dos.
- Bring In The experts – Sure suggest folks who can help, but resist the urge to bring in a Superhero to take over. Nothing damages morale more than lack of confidence.
- Require More Updates – Now you're nervous. It's natural to want more frequent updates. If you need more info, make it easy. The team doesn't have time to build more PowerPoint decks to update you. They've got work to do.
How To Encourage The Truth
The good news is, with deliberate effort and focus, you can build a high-trust team who are deeply committed to telling the whole truth for the greater good
- T – Time: Be sensitive to scar tissue from previous officers and other authority figures in their lives. Raise the issue one person at a time. Ask how you're doing and what it will take to nurture their trust.
- R - Receive well: Really listen to what they're saying. Gently probe for more information. Ask follow-up questions, including how you can best help.
- U - Understand: Reiterate what you've heard. Use empathy statements, "Wow, that must be really frustrating."
- T - Take it offline: Casually talk to team members one-on-one. Ask what worries them most, and how you can help. Ask what they think you should be worried about.
- H – Honest: Calmly articulate any concerns. Being real with them, will encourage them to be real with you.
The best start to truth-telling and listening is building a foundation of trust and respect. Truth-telling goes both ways. When given the chance to "spin" a negative situation or treat them like grown-ups, tell them all you are able.
Truth invites truth. Trust breeds trust. Trust builds teams. Teams get it done.
Karin Hurt is the CEO of Let's Grow Leaders, an award winning experienced former Fortune 15 executive, speaker and writer, college professor, and author of "Overcoming an Imperfect Boss: A Practical Guide to Building a Better Relationship With Your Boss" as well as her latest read, "Parent's Guide to Leadership" How to Inspire Leadership in Younger Children."