Leadership Strategies: Telling the truth isn’t spilling your guts

How hard do you think it is to be a transformational leader? My answer is it takes commitment and dedication to new ways of thinking and doing. The type of leadership that is transformative is disciplined, proactive, and positive without being syrupy.

What I say next is necessary for you to tattoo into your brain and use every time and everywhere.

Telling the Truth isn’t Spilling Your Guts

Question to ponder: What is the benefit of telling someone you think they behave like a jerk? What is the benefit of telling someone you think others are smarter, easier to lead, more cooperative? I could go on and on. The answer, of course, is there isn’t a benefit. It just may feel good for a brief instant.

So, what do you do when you must tell the jerks they are, well, jerky?

The best way, to tell the truth, is by asking questions. Open-ended questions that will make the other person think rather than defend, explain, or justify. Here’s a great example of transformational leadership in action.

Let share this story that perfectly illustrates why telling the truth isn’t spilling your guts.  This is the short version of an offsite that started ugly and ended on the strong side of better:

Diane was a new leader. She had learned that telling the truth was a big positive. However, she had yet to learn that it was not about spilling your guts! At a team offsite, she took truth-telling to a whole new level of HR horror stories by facing her top sales person and letting him know he was stuck on himself; that all he did was brag about his success and never listened to anyone. The worst of it was, the whole team was sitting around a big conference table. Not a pretty site.

There was lots of damage control needed and I was called in as a first responder. I assessed the mess and suggested the team take a break while I talked with Diane privately.

She honestly thought she was doing a good thing. After all, the truth is truth and should not be sugar coated, Right?


We eventually called the team back. Diane was a fast learner and did two things. She owned her misstep and apologized to the group for being overly reactive. She then turned to Fred, who was sulking, sitting slumped down in his chair hoping to be invisible.

Diane did what I call, ‘a pattern interrupt.’

She acknowledged his skills and talents. She turned the dialogue in a new direction.

Little by little Fred and the rest of the team began to sit up and become more engaged in what was going on.

The more she talked in the positive, the stronger Fred looked.  

It was then she was able to ask some questions that were direct, important, and not loaded with negative connotations.

Diane asked the whole team to consider who came to them for advice. They did not have to answer now, simply think about it. She also asked how they would handle star salespeople who were always talking about how good they were while ignoring the contributions of others. Again, not to answer, just to ponder. Then she asked them what they needed from her, as a leader, that they were not getting.

She said she would set time for each on her team to respond one-one.

Diane was being very strategic and very smart.  

Here, I’d like to offer an exercise that I did with my partner (and husband) Herb Kaufman to show the power of acknowledgment as the foundation of truth and trust.

Bottom line, when you tell the truth, even uncomfortable truths and embed them with acknowledgment you can be heard more effectively and have your team standing firmly on a foundation of trust.

So next time before you communicate, take a moment to really think this through…telling the truth isn’t spilling your guts.

I suggest you take the conflict resolution style quiz and get a better sense of how you have been able to resolve conflict.

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Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options