truth matters

road sign for the town of Truth or Consequences, NM
© Alamy-Jonathan Larsen

Henry Cloud, in his book, Integrity, writes that many people lie… actually most of us do, in some form or another.

How about the little “white” lie answer to, “How are you doing?” Do I say “fine” when I’m not really fine? Or if someone asks me, “So… how did I do?”, do I give them honest feedback or do I respond with a generic, “Great”? What about when someone wants me to “fudge” on a recommendation letter, or a stats report, or a financial designation? Do I “help them out, or do I tell the truth?

Cloud states, “People of good character are people who can be trusted to tell the truth.”

  • Truth about myself – I’ve heard many times to consider reality as my friend. It doesn’t help to hide, avoid or deny reality – especially about myself. One powerful element of leadership is self-awareness, understanding my strengths and weaknesses. If I don’t contend with my weak areas, others will. I don’t want to be the fool who’s not really fooling anyone except myself. Although it is not easy for me, I am learning to seek out truth – ask others (husband, co-workers, boss, friends) for an evaluation, request feedback about my leadership, apply what they tell me, and seek help where I am weak.

      Will I pursue the truth?

  • Truth about others – I’ve written before about my desire to please others and be the “nice guy“. It is hard to tell people the truth when it may hurt them, but there is a big difference between a surgeon who causes pain while saving a life and a murderer who causes pain when taking a life. The pain itself is not bad – intent is what matters. I am learning that I sometimes have to tell someone a painful truth in order to help them mature, change, or make a wise decision. If I use tact, care, empathy, and respect when I speak, the truth pill is easier to swallow. The temporary pain is for their good; if I withhold the truth because of my fear of rejection or negative reaction, I have put my comfort ahead of their well-being.

      Do I care enough to tell the truth?

  • Truth about my world – In our ministry, we used to do an honest evaluation of our progress every school quarter. We would look at the stats numbers and consider the brutal-truth information they provided. We would celebrate where we were doing well, and we would prayerfully adjust our plans and activities wherever we were missing the mark. Cloud calls this assimilation and accommodation.

The world is changing at breakneck speed. If I am not willing to let go of the “way we’ve always done it”, or if I mislead investors with a sugar-coated story that conceals the real numbers, or if I intentionally tell my teammates only a partial truth about my actions, I – and the organization – will never be able to grow to meet the demands of our reality. No growth = death.

      Am I willing to respond to the truth?


Do you struggle with telling the truth?

What helps you remember that the truth matters?

no more “mr. nice guy”

I have been reading recently about Joseph in Genesis 41, specifically the passage where Pharaoh first calls the magicians and wise-men to interpret his dreams, but they “couldn’t do it”. Reviewing the dreams, the interpretation seems fairly obvious for experienced wise-men. Personally, I think they actually could have interpreted the dreams… they just didn’t want to bear the bad news. They chose diplomacy over honesty. They acted like “nice guys”.

I have experienced this same situation too many times. People who would rather tell me what they think I “want” to hear, rather than the truth. Avoiding direct confrontation and difficult conversations led to gossip behind my back or other’s. The desire to be known as a “nice guy”, liked by all, caused leaders to deny or avoid a problem.

Avoiding the truth is not helpful.  By hiding the truth, the supposed wise-men missed the opportunity to help Pharaoh change and prepare for the future. Joseph, on the other hand, spoke the truth… AND he was available to come alongside Pharaoh and help him with the necessary changes. Truth is not the opposite of grace. We don’t pick one or the other. We can choose a “both-and” situation. Tell the truth AND graciously be available to come alongside and bring about change.

I have watched leaders avoid the truth – because of fear, or discomfort, or a desire for acceptance – and it never helped. It always made the problem worse. If it was a person whose behavior was inappropriate, they did not get better on their own. Instead, their negative behavior often increased, and the personal or work relationship deteriorated greatly.

If it was a policy or integrity issue that was at stake, the situation did not improve as a result of neglect or passivity. Social entropy caused cooperation to move toward conflict and chaos. Procrastination only made problem resolution more costly in the end.

Truth AND grace can be priority in your life and work.

  • Honest evaluations with your staff – Use 360 evaluations, regular feedback sessions, stats analysis – give lots of encouragement and focus on the positive, but don’t ignore the growth areas. We all need to admit our errors and be continually willing to grow. Work to make honest evaluations a norm with your people.
  • Deal with poor behavior – Have the difficult conversations AND forgive and help your staff move towards change. Giving grace does not equal license. Deal with the error/weakness/sin as quickly as possible. Use respect, tact, discernment and even humor, but tell the truth directly to the person who needs to hear it. “Letting it go” or talking to others rather than to the one involved, only means it will be harder to deal with in the future.
  • Honest evaluations of organizational situations – Be willing to make difficult decisions. Do not overlook debt-producing financial patterns, lack of integrity, poor performance, or any other reality that threatens the organization. As in Joseph’s situation, honest evaluation combined with strategic problem solving can create systems and solutions that will overcome the challenges and lead to a hopeful, healthy future.

Are you sometimes tempted to act like a “Mr. Nice Guy”?

Where can you apply grace AND truth today?