When I reflect back over my life as a manager of others, I am wildly unsatisfied. I failed as a manager in the moments that mattered most. This wasn’t for lack of desire to be a good manager or commitment to my people. It was because I failed to tell my people the truth in the moments when it mattered the most.
I had bought into the notion that my job as a manager was to make the lives and experiences of my employees better, happier by fixing the things that they complained about. So, when one of my staff showed up at my door with a complaint, concern or issue, my instinct was to try to resolving the issue or perfecting the circumstance that was causing the employee pain. That seemed like the reasonable thing to do and generally it seemed to make the employee happier by the time they left my office.
The problem was that the same employees kept coming back to my office with new complaints and new circumstances for me to fix. In hind sight, I now realize how vicious this cycle was over time, but I couldn’t see it until later.
One example stands out in my mind. A member of my HR staff showed up at my door one day and asked for a few minutes. Turns out she had been nominated to come talk to me about the concerns of a small group of employees on my staff. They had a concern that I was favoring a particular group of employees on my staff over them. And further, they felt like I should be walking down to talk to them more often, as they felt I spent more time talking to other members of staff than I did to them.
There was some truth underlying this complaint. I did spend more time with some members of my staff than others. The high performers who were highly engaged and making good things happen garnered more of my attention. It was intentional. This isn’t something a good manager should ever apologize for. It was probably also true that I didn’t walk down to talk to those employees as much as others. I have never been a great chit chatter so I don’t really small talk with anyone. I talk about work. Those who are most engaged in doing great work get more of my time, period. Also, not something a manager should apologize for.
But, when that employee was in front of me that day, I didn’t say these things. I didn’t explain to the employee that if she wanted more of my attention, she could get it by stepping up her game. Instead, I apologized. I said that I would do better. I told her I would fix it.
I failed as a manager.
Not only did I not invite her to step up to better performance. I took away from her a positive learning experience. I could have helped her understand that her frustration was coming from things within her own control. I could have held her accountable for her own role in this perceived “slight.” But, I didn’t.
I should have told her the truth the same way that I write it here today. What was I afraid of?
All too often in both our professional and personal lives, we miss the opportunity to tell the truth, to say the things that need to be said. Certainly, telling the truth in important conversations is risky, but these risks are what can make you a better person, a more powerful leader.
Here a few reasons why the truth is powerful option:
- The truth reveals your true intentions. It clarifies your expectations to the other person and breaks through artificial barriers that might otherwise define a relationship.
- Telling the truth improves your thinking. When you tell the truth about your feelings or beliefs, then you reveal yourself in a way that allows for truly meaningful feedback and dialogue that might either strengthen or even change your beliefs. If you are in the habit of telling the truth, then you worry less about crafting your words and more about improving your thinking and belief system.
- The truth is authentic. While it may cause some short term tension or conflict, in the long run it sets you up for more satisfying relationships.
- The truth scares inauthentic and phony people out of your life.