Several high-powered, potential customers would soon be witnessing the anticipated demonstration. Everything was in place and would go without a hitch, or so I thought. The equipment was configured, tested, and ready. What could possibly go wrong?
On the morning of the demonstration, I arrived early with coffee, fruit, and bagels in hand… but the door to the demonstration room was still closed. Thirty minutes later, the customers arrived.
Everyone was eager to begin… but my colleague — the only person with the combination to the demonstration room — was nowhere to be found!
My blood began to boil.
Ten minutes after we were scheduled to begin, the guardian of the key flew down the stairs, entered the combination to the door, and the demonstration proceeded successfully.
But I wasn’t done yet. The minute the customers left I opened the floodgates and unleashed my anger… and I let him have it. I didn’t appreciate being embarrassed in front of our customers… simply because someone couldn’t be trusted.
When he finally was able to explain himself, I realized that the next thing out of my mouth would have to be an apology. The truth was that he had been detained by a legitimate emergency… his quick response provided excellent customer service to a valued customer.
Eventually I realized that my emotions had diminished my leadership because I forgot four simple words:
TRUTH FIRST, THEN ACTION.
Truth first, then action is a simple way to remember that leadership is a constant exercise of reframing our perception of reality, as Steven R. Covey famously said,
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Many problems occur in organizations when leaders reverse the order of effective communication. They act (or react) before they understand the truth. Three questions can help us extract truth out of a situation:
1. What’s The Story? Invite those involved to tell you the story from their perspective, to share their side of the story. Keep probing until a consistent story emerges.
2. What Did I Contribute to the Story? Did you play a part in the circumstances in question? Did you communicate your expectations clearly and concretely or were you ambiguous? Is it possible that you contributed to the problem?
3. What’s Missing? If the story seems incomplete, it is probably because it is. Continue probing: Were others involved? Are extenuating circumstances or a character flaw the issue?
… Then Act
Waiting to act until the complete truth emerges takes patience, good judgement, and courage.
It demonstrates that you are willing to put the vision before agendas, personal differences, or emotions.
Truth first, then action communicates leadership in action… it infuses life and energy into your team, your customers, and yourself.
Remember: Truth first, then action! Make it a mantra among your team and see how communication issues begin to resolve themselves.
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