Set Your Organization Free
by Stephanie Cirihal

A new twist on an old commandment

Truth is not a novel concept. It is, unfortunately, a lost concept in many teams and organizations in corporate America. Or maybe it is not a lost concept, for it is always there, the white elephant in our meetings that no one will acknowledge. Maybe truth is more like the child of our teams, better seen but not heard. How many times have you sat through a meeting where everyone or almost everyone was thinking the same thing but no one shared it? Why don't we share the truth in our organizations, and what are the consequences in not doing so?

I believe there are many reasons why the truth is not told more widely, and most are based on fear. Fear of reprisal, fear of being wrong, and fear of looking stupid. Most of the fears are catalyzed by the historic treatment of those who told the truth before. Leaders, who would rather not deal with the truth, consciously or unconsciously set up systems that squelch its voice. They mistakenly believe, as most humans do, that problems will go away on their own sooner or later. The truth is, however, that problems or concerns that are not addressed will just fester like a boil on the butt of the organization, requiring more effort and damage control in the future. The loss of truth telling is a telltale sign of deeper organizational issues.

Why is truth necessary in organizations? For the same reasons it is necessary in marriage, and for that matter in any relationship. When people are not telling their truth, they are not growing, and soon they quit thinking for themselves. A great illustration of this comes from a story about a family in Texas who decides on the hottest day of the year, to drive to Abilene. Now, in truth none of them really WANTS to go to Abilene, but they all go along because the dad suggested it, and they don't want to be the party pooper. So, they pile in their hot, old car and make the several hour drive. They have a miserable time once there, and begin to argue on the way back about why they went in the first place.

How many "Trips to Abilene" have you or your teams been on? And what did it cost you in the long run? That is the most compelling reason I can think of for why truth telling matters in organizations.

As a leader, or even as an individual contributor, you can promote the truth telling in your organization. The most important way is by modeling the behavior you expect or desire in others. If you want the truth, then tell the truth. But, and this is a HUGE but - do it with compassion. There is an old saying - "honesty without compassion is brutality." And organizations certainly do not need any more brutality.

How can you tell the truth with compassion? This is something coaches work on with their clients all the time, and the secret is to make a shift from telling "the" truth to telling "your" truth. Always remember, the truth, as we each see it, has been through our delicate, yet rigorous filtering system, so treat it lightly. That leaves space for others to share their truth as well, which is the beginning of true collaboration. If you can approach things with curiosity rather than certainty, you will be amazed at the professional and personal transformation that will be available to you.

Stephanie Cirihal is a professional, solution-oriented coach who develops human solutions for organizations and the people in them. She offers a free e-zine and consultation on her website, located at

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Copyright 2003 by Stephanie Cirihal. All rights reserved.

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