leaders say mean

Why Leaders Must Say What They Mean

Positioning, spin, strategic ambiguity – why do so many leaders fail to say what they mean?

Leaders worry that if they say what they really mean…

  • Someone might panic
  • The truth will leak
  • Employees will make bad choices
  • They’ll become disengaged

Spinning the truth has all of those same side effects, only worse.  When humans aren’t told the truth, the stories they concoct to fill in the blanks are far more dramatic than the actual scene.

I’m always surprised by how surprised employees are when they’re told the honest truth.

  • “I’ve never heard that feedback before.”
  • “Thanks for respecting us enough to include us in the solution.”
  • “It’s refreshing to hear what’s really happening”
  • “Thanks for giving us advanced notice.”

When we are clear about our values, thought processes, and rationale, our teams get a behind-the-scenes view of our choices.

Why We Must Say What We Mean

Meaning It Creates Alignment

When we are clear about our values, thought processes, and rationale, our teams get a behind-the-scenes view of our choices. It is far easier for team members to align with a vision they fully understand.

Meaning It Builds Trust

Trust begets trust. When we trust enough to share a bit about ourselves, the relationship deepens. When we show we trust in the team, they are more likely to reciprocate. When there is less information available, people do what they can to fill in the blanks.  Usually the imagined future and actions are far more distasteful than the reality.

Meaning It Accelerates Change

In times of change and crises, people crave meaningful conversation.  Truth-telling reduces anxiety, speculation, and chatter.  When people are focused on the work, the change moves more quickly and smoothly.

In times of change and crises, people crave meaningful conversation.

Broader Development

People will learn more when they are on the inside.  They learn more from understanding the nuances and underlying struggles behind a decision.  Leaders learn from watching leaders.  By having more meaningful conversations, you will get more honest feedback and support that you can use in your own leadership journey.

Meaning Begets Meaning: When we treat people with trust, they trust us. When we mean what we say, others will say what they mean.

How to Say What You Mean

Speak from your Heart

Speak with confident humility.  Be honest with your thoughts and feelings.

Speak your Truth

Share your perspective and how you got there.

Speak with Compassion

Consider the impact of your words, and choose them well.

Speak what Should be Said

Speak about the difficult truths others avoid.

Speak with Confidence

Articulate your truth with energy and poise.

Call for stories. Please click here to share your experiences of when saying what you mean, made a difference.
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Image credit: cienpies / 123RF Stock Photo

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt is an experienced executive and founder of Let’s Grow Leaders. Karin was named to the "2014 Top 100 List of Thought Leaders in Trusted Business Behavior" by Trust Across America, and the Wiseman Group’s Multiplier of the Year in Business. Her experience is based on two decades of leadership and executive experience at Verizon in sales, marketing, customer service, merger integration, human resources and training. Her mission is to develop the next generation of trustworthy transparent leaders achieving breakthrough results.

  • Ron RicciCisco

    Nice piece, Karen, and terrific advice. At Cisco, we studied what trust means inside our organization and it comes down to the flip side of saying what you mean: actually doing what you say you are going to do. There are two faces to authenticity: saying what you mean and doing what you say. Thanks for raising such an important leadership message. @RonRicciCisco

  • http://www.LaRaeQuy.com/ LaRae Quy

    Great post! I love all your points, and I agree that speaking from the heart is the place to start. Once we do, it’s easier to communicate on the other levels.

    To be a great communicator, it’s important to be authentic.

  • http://www.LaRaeQuy.com/ LaRae Quy

    Great post! I love all your points, and I agree that speaking from the heart is the place to start. Once we do, it’s easier to communicate on the other levels.

    To be a great communicator, it’s important to be authentic.

  • Zorlu Senyucel HEcompass.com

    Good post, thank you. In reality, leaders don’t engage in open, meaningful conversations because often they don’t want to share the full story. Keeping information is keeping power. Sharing information is sharing power. Truth isn’t (& cannot be) always shared with employees. At least in academia this is how it often is.

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  • http://www.liveitforward.com/ Kent Julian

    Love “confident humility.” Use those words together all the time! The perfect combo for solid leadership.

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  • Let’s Grow Leaders

    Ron, Thanks so much. I so agree with you. Doing what you say is one of the most important parts of all human relationships. Thanks for adding that.

  • Let’s Grow Leaders

    LaRae, Thanks so much. Agreed, authenticity is at the core of great leadership.

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