As a management consultant, my success hinges upon radical honesty. When a consultant is brought in, it’s usually because an injection of truth is required. As Albert Einstein put it best: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
People are afraid of the truth.
Avoiding the truth about situations, people, and ourselves, however, prevents us from learning and keeps us stuck in repetitive patterns that thwart our evolution and the attainment of that which we truly desire. This is no different in an organizational setting. Companies that avoid what is true (or what has become true in the moment) fail to innovate and end up being left behind as the world around them changes. Because organizations are just a collective of the people who run them, culture is everything. If management is made up of people who are afraid of their own truth and the truth about their people, teams, and objectives, they are setting themselves (and their organizations) up for failure.
I have been in more than one meeting in which the team leader doesn’t take a breath to ask what everyone thinks, if they agree or disagree, if what has been said makes sense, or if anyone would do it differently. This is usually because the leader is afraid to be wrong or afraid to look weak (afraid of their own ego pain). They fear what is true. In creating such an environment, the disservice is unto them. Decisions made in a vacuum can lead initiatives many months in the wrong direction, wasting precious time, money, and resources. I always suggest to use other people’s brains. Junior team members are often the ripest brains to pick because their worldview has been less mired by the culture of the organization for which they work.
As a consultant I like to approach every problem with a fresh perspective. I don’t spend much time investigating how other people have solved things in the past, at least not initially. This allows me to bring creativity to the challenge at hand. I am also always asking for feedback, good or bad, as a means of improving my chosen direction. I say improving, because feedback doesn’t change my direction. I fiercely defend my position if it is sound in logic but will just as easily change course if new information is introduced.
“Unity [of thought] and lack of criticism are the source of all failure and get in the way of all advancement and intellectual fertility. The drawing of correct conclusions is based on argument and differences based on multiplicity of opinion. The more opposition, contradiction and criticism there is, the more understanding and wisdom can proliferate, and things become clear and easier to understand. All failure and degeneration of understanding comes as a result of insufficient criticism and argument. “
– Rav Yehuda Ashlag from his book ‘The Wisdom of Truth’
These wise words are as applicable to corporate culture as they are for intimate relations between spouses in marriage. Honest communication, without fear of reproach, is key to success and growth. When we know what is true, even if that truth is painful, inconvenient, or bruises our ego, we can use it to adjust ourselves to better move towards our goals. There is nothing to fear.