One of the most common challenges leaders have shared with me over the years is communicating effectively. I was recently thinking about a situation that happened to me when I was a very young consultant.
I was working on my first merger integration. Two large healthcare organizations were coming together. I had just completed a series of focus groups with front line staff. One of their biggest concerns was that they believed that senior management was lying to them about whether there would be any layoffs as a result of the merger.
I am sitting in the Board Room with all of the senior executives. I told them about the staff's concern. The executives looked at each other, but no one said anything for several seconds. Then the Chief Operating Officer said something that stunned me; "Of course we're lying to them. If we told them the truth they would cause us all sorts of problems!"
What happened next stunned me even more. Nothing happened next. No one said a word. They just moved on to the next topic. No one cared that leadership was lying to the staff. There were layoffs, of course. Once they started the staff lost all trust for management. The best people began to leave the organization.
The communication lesson here is to tell the truth even when it is hard. If you tell the truth even when it is painful to hear people will begin to trust you. When people trust you they will listen to you. If they listen to you they will follow your leadership.
Team leadership requires trust. Build it by telling the hard truth.