Leadership Fail: When Your Team is Afraid to Tell You the Truth

Read Time ~4 Minutes

Leadership Lesson: If you’re the leader, you’re responsible for creating a culture where people can tell the truth.

“Better is open rebuke Than love that is concealed.” (Proverbs 27:5)

If the people around you cannot tell you what is wrong, you are in real trouble.

One of the most dangerous places to be as a leader is when your team knows where the real problems ARE, but they’re afraid to tell you – because they’re fearful of how you’ll:

  • Blow up
  • Write them off
  • Overreact
  • Feel threatened
  • Dismiss them
  • Immediately tell them why they’re wrong

In his seminal book on leadership, Jim Collins writes the following about a leader’s need to create teams that confront the brutal facts.

“Leading from good to great does not mean coming up with the answers and then motivating everyone to follow your messianic vision. It means having the humility to grasp the fact that you do not yet understand enough to have the answers and then to ask the questions that will lead to the best possible insights.” (Collins, Good to Great, 75).

Leader, create a culture that isn’t afraid to say what’s wrong!

I say CREATE it because if you are the one in charge of your team, you are the primary influencer of its culture.

Here are three healthy ways you can foster a culture that confronts the brutal facts:

 1. Listen to Your Team

Insecure leaders won’t do this, but listening to your team means you are humbly asking for their help.

Hint: Your team might be your spouse or family members (God forbid!)

Early on in my leadership career, I sometimes viewed divergence from my own opinion as either non-loyal or unsubmitted or a vote of no confidence in my leadership. 

This was SO dumb of me.  

Most of the best ideas come from those on the front lines!

Try asking your team this: What does everyone else WISH I realized?

2. Listen to the Lord

The Lord probably IS speaking through your team, but in ADDITION to listening to them, ask Jesus which brutal facts He wishes we’d confront or take more seriously. 

The Holy Spirit will give us counsel if we ask Him. 

Try praying this:

  • Lord, what don’t we see?
  • Lord, what problem are we pretending isn’t there?
  • Lord, what are we trying to do that doesn’t delight Your heart?

Ask Him.

3. Name the Problem

So much organizational energy is wasted when people spin their wheels talking AROUND a problem instead of describing it with specificity.

So get specific:

  • Is this a quality problem? A scheduling problem? A training problem?
  • Did we really just make the wrong decision, and everyone is trying to save face?
  • Are you REALLY feeling distant from your child because you don’t pursue relational TIME with them (works for families too)?
  • Does your employee have an attitude problem that everyone is ignoring?

Don’t color it. Don’t down-play it. 

You cannot fix what you will not name.

Use as much tact as possible, but don’t let TACT keep you from TRUTH. 

Max DePree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”

Leaders help everyone understand, “THIS is what is actually true.” A good doctor would never pretend a bone is NOT broken if it IS broken.  As the leader, once you become aware of it, it is YOUR JOB to admit that THIS PARTICULAR BONE RIGHT HERE is broken.

Leaders tell the truth no one else wants to hear in order to achieve the results everyone wishes they had.

Is there anything you’re struggling to admit to yourself? To your team?

Is there anything you know but are hesitant to say out loud?  

Say it. 

Leadership Lesson: If you’re the leader, you’re responsible for creating a culture where people can tell the truth.


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Posted on December 6, 2018

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Bible Leadership is a ministry of Fierce Church.

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