A remarkable thing happened to me the other day. I was in a client meeting, and the CEO opened the meeting with a statement that surprised me. He said, “This is a very important meeting about the future of our media strategy. That’s why I need everyone here to be absolutely honest. I know we have problems, and we’re looking for solutions. So you are protected here. Whatever you say will not impact your job in a negative way whatsoever. I’m looking for real answers, and I need you to be completely honest and accurate.” Then he opened it up for discussion.
That request totally changed the dynamic of the meeting.
Everyone knew he was serious, and that he actually meant what he said. When he finished, it was like pulling the curtain back to reveal the unvarnished truth about the organization. People were honest – but not cruel or vindictive. They respected each other, but the new atmosphere allowed everyone in the room to let go, and be comfortable saying things they might ordinarily have held back.
As a result, we started some dramatic changes within the organization. Positive changes, that will have a great impact on the future. So what did that experience teach me?
1) It takes courage to start up a meeting like that. You never know what people might say, and I admired the leader for opening up to possible criticism. Many leaders I know don’t want to hear that kind of honesty from their own people.
2) It needs to happen more often. I sit in too many meetings where the truth is thrown under the bus. Politics prevail, and kingdoms continue to be built. It does nothing but muck up the works, and make real success harder to come by.
3) If this happens to you, don’t take it as a chance to nail other people. It’s not about getting even, it’s about fixing problems. Be gracious, because you rarely know all the circumstances from your position around the table.
4) This isn’t your time to rant or express your personal philosophy. Yes – the leader wants you to be honest and forthright, but he’s not interested in a lecture about how they’re been doing it all wrong and how you have all the answers. You’re part of a team. Act like it.
5) Commit to a life of “brutal honesty.” Being honest doesn’t mean being ugly or mean, it’s about speaking the truth in confidence, and with the expertise to back it up.
Let’s all decide to have more meetings like this one.