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I Have Terrible News: Value of Communication in Honesty

| July 24, 2012

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading, “I Have Terrible News:  Value of Communication in Honesty”, is a Jack Zenger article which appeared at  Zenger is CEO of Zenger | Folkman, a Utah-based consulting company focused on leadership development.  He and his partner, Joe Folkman, are authors of The Extraordinary Leader.

The key idea in this article is that even though leaders and managers typically score, in 360 feedback reviews for example, high on honesty and integrity, a recent experience demonstrated to Zenger than we could do better.

The experience, which Zenger describes, has to do with the death of his son from an uncommon stomach cancer.  What struck Zenger was the oncologist’s “incredibility honest presentation of the facts.”  At the end of his recitation of facts, “he asked, if my son understood.  And, he did.”

As Zenger reflected on this, he couldn’t avoid thinking about the leaders he had known who couldn’t master the courage to tell a colleague of the negative consequences of their behavior.  With his son, the physician had been compassionate but he did not sugar coat anything.  The patient and the family deserved to know the truth.  The physician presented honestly all the facts and the consequence.

A fundamental principle of leadership is treating others with respect and speaking honestly with each other.  Zenger’s research on 360s has shown that leaders who score high on honesty and integrity also scored high on 

     – approachable

     – acted with humility

     – listened with great intensity

     – made decisions carefully

     – acted assertively.

The first four of these qualities you might expect from an individual who is known for being honest and showing respect.  The fifth quality is not as obvious.  But as Zenger pointed out through his story of his of his son that had the oncologist not been assertive, he would have avoided the extremely difficult conversation that his patient deserved to have.  As Zenger notes, the assertiveness is the engine that drives this part of honesty.

As I read this article, I became painfully aware that too often I have not been as complete and respectfully honset as I should have been in giving feedback.  I’m going to work on this and I invite you to join me.


.  .  .  .  .    jim