Organizations are dependent on the truth.
The emergence of the truth relies on the culture of the organization and the values—implicit and explicit—held by organization members day to day.
Do we value the truth and put it above all else? Or is something else at the top of our priorities: profit, success, winning. Look at the overuse of the Vince Lombardi quote – “Winning is not everything, it’s the only thing”—to see this reflected in sports. And of course sports culture spills over to so many organizations.
In business we only need to look at General Motors and at Volkswagen to see that, at some level, something other than the truth was at the top of the list. Individual employees—more than one—behaved in ways that distorted their product and their message, operating on the subtle (or not) belief that expediency, successes in the marketplace, profits or short-term reputation were more important.
The truth is vital to any healthy relationship. Marriages, teams, organizations and societies all need for truth to be told, else they are operating on a house of cards, a reality that doesn’t exist, a reality that will eventually come down around their ears.
“The truth will set you free” is more than a popular quote from The Bible, it’s a deep realization that applies to education, family, science, government and societies as a whole. It is an invitation to openness and learning. It is the bedrock of keeping a relationship stable and holding people accountable.
When you hear on a soap opera (or in your own life) –“You mean I’ve been living a lie,” it’s the realization that the relationship was operating in a world that was not real. The truth, suddenly and painfully discovered, changes everything.
When you hear from Volkswagen that equipment has been altered and what you’re driving is not what you thought it was, a deep sense of betrayal sets in. You’ve been polluting the environment, working against the very thing you thought you were working for.
How to find and honor the truth— this is the commitment that we must make in each of our relationships if we are to thrive, to learn and to build a better world to live in. Our democracy, fragile as it seems, is dependent on informed participation, on the truth being known. How do we encourage that? How do we build marriages, work teams, companies, institutions and societies that honor the truth above all else?
For truth to emerge in any relationship or in any culture, it must be made clear that individual voices will be heard and respected. This becomes part of the cultural and part of the group’s stated values. The individual will be respected and accepted for who she is and not who she is expected to be or wanted to be. Leaders and others will accept persons in their present reality. Only then will they change. The consequences of trying to meet someone where they are expected to be is disappointment, of where they should be is anger and where you want them to be is frustration. Blame, which is not effective, quickly follows.
This non-acceptance in its many forms suppresses the truth.
Persons in authority or those who are perceived with more power must be real, must be transparent and not hide behind their role or their level of expertise in order to “win” dialogues. (I use the word must with the assumption that you the reader are committed to change and want to know the necessary conditions for relationships filled with truth.) When we engage each other in conversation, my words and my expressions must match my inner experience. This is defined as congruent.
We will fully express empathy for each other, not sympathy and not pity. We will let the other know that in some way, at some level, we understand what it like to live in their skin for some moments, hearing what we are hearing from them. This empathy, on a basic human level, lets the other know that they are not alone.
All of this happens even if you are not in agreement. The other is heard, respected and received. Then the dialogue can begin and you, the listener, perhaps the leader, can look for the same thing in the other. You will begin to see your communications as an event, a happening that lives between the two of you and can be examined and explored by both parties. In order to do this cleanly, you must be able to detach yourself from your own experience and see it as if it were out there on its own. (What did I just say?). And you must not be hooked, captured or attached to the message from the other.
All of this will lead to the truth. As slippery and as elusive as The TRUTH is, a common reality will emerge. This common reality, composed of visions, missions, plans, skills, ways of behaving, feelings, wants, needs, ideas – all of this will be the building blocks for your relationship, for your work team, for your company, for your church and for your society. This is an ideal. It is something to be stated, talked about, revisited time and time again and reinforced by whatever leaders are in place and by leaders that come out of the woodwork as you move ahead.
Everyone can lead. Everyone can be powerful. There is no restriction necessary and the energy of acceptance, openness, real communication and mutual understanding will give your relationship and your group vitality renewed.
We can say that an organization is a series of relationships. And that the power of the relationship is dependent on the qualities within.
Tell the truth. Find the truth. Build yourselves the vessel in which you can thrive.
It will be well worth it.