Volume 17 Number 3 - March 5, 2019

You Can't Handle the Truth!

In the movie "A Few Good Men" we all remember the famous Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson scene in a courtroom, lawyer Cruise pushing Nicholson's testifying character until Nicholson explodes with "You Can't Handle the Truth!"

Nicholson's character, Marine Colonel Jessep, believes that how he runs his Marine operations is the best way, even when it includes murder to sort out the weak ones. The ends justify the means.

As executives, none of us are called to murder to keep a secret, but we are often faced with difficult choices about telling the truth. Sometimes we know things that the law prevents us from sharing — SEC rules for example. Sometimes we know things that the company's best interest requires that we keep shared only by a select few.

When we are asked questions in these cases, we feel the pressure to lie. To keep the truth from becoming known. The ends justify the means.

If you intend to reorganize and create a (for example) new COO position and you consider none of the current employees to be viable candidates, when should the decision be announced? Some believe only after the new-hire is ready to start work; others believe the decision should be announced and internal candidates be allowed to request an interview before a formal offer is made to the outside candidate. But aren't both options really just forms of lying?

When you look at your direct reports, do you see someone who can step into your role? Do those who are interested but don't meet the requirements know what their shortcomings are? Do they know you believe they can, or that they can't, overcome them? Is it misleading to provide development opportunities to those you believe are already at the Peter Principle?

These questions are part of why so many companies are concerned about succession planning. While that function is larger than simply identifying holes in the management teams, identifying your own succession plan may create struggles for you in telling "the truth."

Are you struggling because you haven't been totally honest with your staff about their performance and potential over time? Is it because you are afraid they will leave if they know the truth? Those thoughts are on you. The first is failure on your part; the second is selfishness on your part.

As you create development plans for each member of your staff, consider these questions:

  • Are you under or over estimating the capabilities of some individuals based on your personal relationships with them?
  • Are their skill sets inadequate, or simply different from your style?
  • Did you hire with replacing yourself or building a stronger team in mind?
  • Are you considering their potential, or yours, in a different arena within the organization?
  • The higher in the organization the less important technical knowledge becomes and the more important strategic and conceptual thinking, communication, and personnel development becomes. Do your plans reflect those realities?

A few short years into my career, an amazing man who was my boss took what was classified as a lateral move, but really was a reduction in authority and responsibility to promote me into his former role. When I asked him why on earth he would do that, he said he recognized my potential and knew I would leave soon if he didn't create more opportunity for me. I didn't even realize that yet, but he was undoubtedly right. There are very few people in the corporate world who would do that for an employee, and for their employer, but he was one. I will never forget that.

As you look at your organization, ask yourself who it really is that Can't Handle the Truth!

The Starting Pistol

John F Kennedy:
"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived, and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic."

The Tape

Rebecca Morgan:
"The truth often has enemies because it is inconvenient to a powerful few, or because many simply don't want to believe it. And sometimes because we are afraid of it."

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