In political circles, speaking truth to power is always in vogue. In the spirit of Mandela, King, Gandhi, and Scholl, those with strong convictions are encouraged to call out the false or biased assumptions held by those with higher status. This act of courage is seen as virtuous and necessary to prevent those with power from operating unchecked and unquestioned. As Booker T. Washington told us, “A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right, and evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s accepted by a majority.” Speaking truth to power, however, is never easy. The danger of retribution due to challenging those in power is all too real and often turns out poorly for those who speak up. This is not only true in politics, but also in organizations both large and small. Weak leaders prefer silence and restrained viewpoints that strengthen their authority. They react poorly to being challenged with any truth not their own. Such is the nature of power in the hands of weakness.
Strong leaders have a different view. They understand the nature of power and actually ask others to be brutally candid in their views and assessments. They require people to speak truth to their power. They intuitively know that status implicitly instructs others to filter their honesty and to disagree only when it is safe to do so. Great leaders make it safe all of the time, as they profusely reward and thank people for their candidness. They know their ability to see things accurately and to make quality decisions depends upon it. Asking others to speak openly about what they believe, even if they fear the leader might be offended, is a recipe for effectiveness.
Don’t let your status blind you to reality. Ask others to tell you what they really think as a requirement to lead them.