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She got fired over the phone, and sent an email blast to the organization announcing what had happened. The New York Times story on former CEO Carol Bartz abrupt dismissal from Yahoo said she did something that executives rarely do in that situation. “She told the truth.”

After word got out about her “I’ve just been fired” email, the national argument began: Was her action was a bold act of authenticity and transparency? Or a reckless, unnecessary act inspired by spite?

 Many said Bartz’ actions were consistent with her direct style, and she was applauded for her refreshing honesty.  Some hoped her truth-telling would become a trend, and held her up as a shining example of how things should work.

Others excoriated her for putting the company at further risk. One expert complained she made women managers look “too emotional.” And more than a few characterized her behavior as generally unprofessional.

The Times article contrasted her dismissal with some leadership changes going on Bank of America, where a carefully crafted press release, vetted by the legal department, explained with an upbeat tone that the bank was “de-layering.”

And we can’t help but wonder — why the spin when everyone knows what “de-layering” really means? Who really believes that executives leave lucrative positions of power because they need to urgently pursue new opportunities, or because they can’t wait one more minute to “spend more time with their loved ones.”

We are among those who applauded Bartz’s transparent style and we’d love to believe that this kind of honesty is a trend. It would benefit our organizations, our culture and our society. We agree with the assessment of Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Stanford professor with expertise in organizational behavior, who says that telling the truth “helps you improve.”

When organizations insist on putting out a story that everyone knows is sugar-coated, they are telling the world that we can’t believe what they tell us. And that can’t be good for anyone.

It gets our attention — again — that telling the truth in an organization is a radical act.


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