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In honor of Halloween, here are some scary numbers from Leadership IQ, a Washington DC based training company who surveyed 3611 employees in the US and Canada:

  • 70%  of American employees say a good, trusting relationship with their boss is the foundation of job satisfaction

  • 53% of American employees are suspicious that their boss is dishonest

A Globe and Mail article, “Why bosses aren’t trusted,” quoted Mark Murphy, chairman of Leadership IQ, saying, “When times get tough … focusing on spreadsheets seems a lot easier than talking to employees. Not only might they get hit with questions they can’t answer, when their own stress levels are through the roof, the last thing many managers want is to meet the emotional needs of their employees. But this precisely the time that employees really need lots of feedback, and they need it to be very high quality.”

The article also quotes Bernadette Kenny, Chief Career Officer for Adecco, saying, “Brutal honesty is the best way to get the message out about bad business conditions, and many managers don’t want to be the bearers of bad news.”

Honesty really is the best policy and even better, we advise leaders to strive for transparency. However, telling the truth does not have to be “brutal,” and delivering news shouldn’t be seen in terms of “good” and “bad.” Authentic conversations can be stripped of the sugarcoating, and still be had with goodwill and compassion.  Employees are adults who understand that things don’t always go well in business or in life, and what we make of what happens in the world is a choice each of us makes.

The article mentions companies such as HP and General Electric where employees were told the truth about the state of the businesses and were engaged in facing the future collectively. This was ascribed to good leadership and we agree — but it was also due to good followership by adult employees who understand the circumstances and act responsibly. They usually do, when given the chance.

It won't serve anyone to continue seeing leadership as a set of techniques used to influence others. Leadership should be an act of engaging others in determining a collective future. True leadership starts from an authentic view that ‘we are all in this together.’ Consciously and mindfully living this out makes telling the truth easier. And telling the truth leads to trust and authentic relationships — and better business results.

Authentic conversations about the business are essential for continuous improvement, and even more necessary when times are tough. Think about it: Would you rather have anxious employees armed with accurate information contributing to the future of the company? Or fearful employees who are stumbling in the dark and filling in the blanks with wild guesses and rumors?

Leaders who are dishonest or leave their employees in the dark? Now that’s scary.


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