Posted by: Korry | February 16, 2012

Culture Building Rule #1: Always Tell The Truth

So you want to build a winning culture? You want to realize the results that come from putting your employees first and really building an amazing team that seems to just run on autopilot like the team in BOATLIFT?

If you want all of that, you must follow Culture Building Rule #1: ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH!!

Yes, people talk about this all the time, but the problem is I don’t believe they actually do it. That’s not because they intentionally set out to “lie” to their coworkers and it’s not because they’re bad people. In fact, I think some of the most damaging “lies” that affect the relationship between coworkers come from when the employees are actually trying to do the right thing.

What do I mean? Here’s an example.

Lets say you’re in a meeting discussing some information that the people working for you would really like to know. For one reason or another, your boss tells you that you’re not allowed to announce this information yet. After the meeting, you go back to your office and, sure enough, several people who work for you start dropping in and asking about the information you’re not allowed to talk about but that you are, at least in the minds of your employees, likely to be familiar with.

What do you say?

You could come right out and tell the employee exactly what you know; however, I’m assuming virtually no one would find that to be an acceptable answer as you will have betrayed the trust of your superior and will likely not have any more confidential information entrusted to you…not to mention putting yourself at risk of termination.

Another option would be to simply make something up. For instance, you could say, “Well, they actually haven’t told me about that.” The problem with this answer is that you’re telling an outright lie to your coworker. You have been told that information, but you really don’t want to tell what you know. This little “white lie” won’t hurt anyone, right? Wrong.

I believe people are amazing truth detectors. My passengers can tell when I’m holding something back in one of my PAs. My wife can definitely tell when I’m holding something back because she knows me so well. And guess what? Your coworkers can tell, too! In fact, they will probably go away from the conversation wondering what else you may be holding back from them.

In my view, the only way to answer this question is to shoot straight with your coworkers by saying something like, “Well, the issue has definitely been discussed. I’d really love to tell you more about this because I understand how deeply you would like to know this information. Unfortunately, I’m not yet at liberty to do so. Trust me that as soon as I am free to discuss this with you, I will.” You acknowledge you know the information as they suspect. You acknowledge you understand the information is valuable to the coworker. And you acknowledge that as soon as you are permitted to do so, you will share the information with them.

In no way am I suggesting that this response will make your coworker feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but I also don’t believe they will feel as though you lied to them. Instead, they may be frustrated that you can’t talk about the issue, but they will appreciate the fact that you were truthful with them.

Lies–even little white ones–are like poison to a relationship. In truth, they’re designed to protect the sender, not the receiver. They’re used to avoid more difficult conversations, and they are rarely if ever effective…especially for the long term.

As Warren Buffet said, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” (See the November QOTW here). Trust is built up slowly over time. It requires a solid foundation free from any cracks that could impede the strength and stability of the relationship down the road. The only way to build such a foundation is to always be truthful with the people in your life, to always shoot straight with them even when the answer you give isn’t necessarily the answer they want, and to never, EVER tell a lie–even a little white one.

Nothing is more central to building a winning culture than honesty. It’s the heart of effective communication, and the sign of a good leader.

What do you think? Is honesty really the first step in building a winning culture or does something else deserve the top spot?

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  1. – i just got the craziest sense of oefrdem and empowerment from reading your post. The fourth photo down, with the plane taking off is my absolute favorite. In fact it just makes me want to keep striving towards my goal and doing what I want just because it’s fun and makes ME happy. So THANK YOU, Sean Norman. I leave your blog feeling oh so inspired. 😉 And PS) I don’t think I’d ever get sick of sunsets on the ocean either.

    • Thank you for sharing! I’m so glad you found the post so empowering. Life IS to be lived the way you want it. I think we as people are so afraid to do what we want sometimes, especially when the people around us doubt us or don’t understand why we want to do certain things. You have to believe in yourself and believe in your dreams. Chase them and never give up on them! We get just one shot at life and if we’re not striving towards our goals we’re just spinning our wheels. Thanks again for sharing!!

  2. – Do what you love and love what you do! Amazing sunset picrutes and I loved how you captured the flight crew. Everything feels so natural and genuine. Thanks for sharing friend!

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