We’ve all heard the expression, ’The truth hurts.’
Some information can be confronting and painful to receive. When given publicly, it can be extremely degrading and demotivating. An effective leader knows how to deliver confrontational truths in a balanced way—challenging the behaviour or performance with honesty and empathy.
Some people use the truth harshly as a weapon.
Truth means shining a light on what is really going on—a combination of transparency, honesty and accountability. Brutal honesty might feel more efficient, but it can have long-term negative impacts on team culture. Leaders have the ability to confront reality and provide their team with honest information and feedback. However, truth-telling without empathy can result in discouragement. When truth is used harshly, it creates a culture of ‘toxic negativity’.
Trust cannot bloom
if you just
water the flowers
and never pull
out the weeds
Some people ‘over-care’ and avoid the truth to keep people happy.
Leaders with high levels of ‘care’ highlight their team’s strengths and achievements. They approach issues sensitively and with tenderness. However, ‘care’ without ‘truth’ often means tiptoeing around the real issues, hoping that compliments and encouragement will solve problems, without the need for uncomfortable conversations. This may be acceptable for a while, but, over time, it leaves issues unaddressed and team members begin to wonder what the team leader truly thinks and feels. It creates the appearance of a healthy team environment, but usually creates a culture of avoidance, work-arounds and inefficiency. The team can end up feeling inauthentic and disingenuous, leading to an erosion of trust. When care is over-used, it creates a culture of ‘toxic positivity’.
Some people set up co-dependent relationships.
This is more common than we might imagine. Leaders may regularly put up with the underperformance of employees because of their own deep need to rescue these employees from pain. Quite frankly, this is not caring; it is selfish because the leader craves feeling significant, indispensable and heroic. Co-dependence is the combination of someone who wants to be rescued and someone who wants to be the rescuer – a powerful dynamic resulting in poor performance.
However, some people find a better mix: honesty with compassion, telling the truth with care. For this to occur, the leader needs to foster a culture of trust, where feedback can be given in a way that can be received with insight and understanding.