What we love in childhood often comes back to us with an “ah-ha!” weaving a tighter pattern when we look back over the tapestry of our life and finally see where that pretty colorful thread we once played with has lead us in maturity. Reflective leaders usually have many such stories at play in their lives.
One of these playful threads started for me when I first heard the story, The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson. I remember being very small and enthralled at the idea that big people could be so blind to the reality around them that a mere child could see their truth better than they could. It was no accident that I connected with that story because speaking truth to power came to define my personal career path as I zigged and zagged from more and more responsible positions – and more and more interesting positions. – throughout my career. Ladder? What ladder?
The first time I became aware of the career-accelerating affect of speaking my truth to power was in my late twenties when I was representing a major U.S. corporation to U.S. and foreign governments on the most cutting edge technology issues of the day. To make a short story short, I took my global perspective on a new market and wrapped it in a market analysis that I shipped to the CEO and top execs. I knew my boss wouldn’t like me taking a stand on something outside our office’s scope of responsibility, so I bypassed him. I was young and stupid.
I’ll never forget the day when he called me into his office – red in the face – to tell me that he’d found out about my little report and was angry that I hadn’t gotten his approval to send it up the chain of command. Before I could even respond he told me that the way he’d found out was that the SVP for Global Markets – two levels up and one over my boss’ head – had detailed me to a strategic task force evaluating the company’s European operations – and I was to leave for Paris for the first executive meeting in eight days.
That was one of the most exhilarating and scariest days of my professional career and I learned that day that my truth – my unique perspective which I took a stand for – mattered to the people most likely to help me get ahead in the world. I realized that speaking my truth – and the risk I took in putting it out there – gave me power that I would never have been granted any other way. I was also aware that it had cost me some of my boss’ trust.
Since then I’ve noticed how speaking our truth can get us in trouble or deliver rewards in unexpected ways – to us and to our companies. I’ve validated that my experiences are not unique and that when people feel free to take risks based on their truths, companies perform better on average.
But speaking our truth effectively – without pissing off the boss and poking them in the ego – is an art. In my client work I help grow character-based leaders who know where they stand and why, and they know how to practice the subtle art of personal truth-telling. Character-based leadership – and the personal power that flows from it – is founded on an authentic and deep understanding of who we are and where we stand in each situation. I believe that leaders at all levels who can dig into their personal truth to this degree live in constant integrity, change the world and give others choices that make everyone powerful. This is the world I wish to live in, so it is the one I am creating.
What about you? When has stating your truth effectively given you power? When has it gotten you into trouble? What is happening in a corporate culture when more people are speaking their truth? How can we help everyone learn this subtle, powerful, art?
Seeking to help her clients understand the subtleties of the art of Speaking Truth to Power, she has developed a new eCourse – Speaking Truth to Power which begins October 24, 2011. Or you can check out this video where she explores Speaking Your Truth to Power in greater depth.