Speaking Truth to Power

Howard Spierer

The Importance of creating an environment for your men can speak their truth to power.

This lesson in leadership comes from a recent personal experience. In mid-June I was removed from my position within MDI, I believe not because of anything I did with respect to my job but because of something I said in the supposedly safe and confidential space of a leadership call. What I said and why I said it is irrelevant to the lesson I’m about to address. What I’m concerned about and what I want to communicate to you is the importance of creating an environment where the men you are charged with leading feel free to speak their truth.

As always these are my opinions, my thoughts, and my beliefs. I own them. They are not necessarily shared by MDI as an organization or its leadership nor the editors of Legacy Magazine.

As I delve into the deeper lessons in leadership, there are several things I hold to be true:

  • There may be multiple truths to any one circumstance.
  • Tapping into emotion is the quickest way to reveal someone’s underlying beliefs.
  • What someone says is much less important than what someone does. This is especially true if what they said was during a heightened emotional state.
  • There is nothing that can’t be resolved through communication.
  • Being the leader is more about listening than acting.

An effective and successful leader listens to the words, digs behind the emotion and uses that to evaluate their own position. And after this, only then should they act.

I have always tried to adhere to a leadership model that strives to work with those that disagreed with me rather than isolate and marginalize them. When looking to make a decision I would continue to seek input until I found someone who disagreed with me. Then I would listen to the basis of the disagreement and factor it into the context I needed to present to enroll others into my vision.

I like to encourage my men and urge and often incite them to speak their truth to me, especially if they think it’s going to hurt my feelings. I have found it incredibly dangerous to allow men to stifle their emotion and carry a list of grievances against me. If there is a thunderstorm coming, I have always wanted to see it well in advance. I am quicker to trust a man who is willing to voice his disagreement with me than someone who feels compelled to nod their head in tacit agreement.

One of the biggest mistakes I believe any leader can make is to take someone out of a job after they voiced a contrary opinion. That does not mean eventually they cannot fire or seek that person’s resignation. I just believe it is dangerous to do it immediately after someone has spoken their truth because the signal it sends to everyone else is “be careful what you say.” For someone charged with leading anything, surrounding yourself with others who are afraid to question you is a sure path to ultimate failure.

Too often leaders confronted by disagreement try to convince the other side they are right rather than taking a step back and hearing what the other person is saying. They wish not to see where there might be some kernel of truth. The code of honor of MDI has a tenet about honoring the truth. This is key, as it directs us to individual truth which can lead ultimately to a collective truth.

A successful organization does not commit to one “right way” of doing things but rather creates a forum for others to express their own truth, embracing diverse opinions.

2 thoughts on “Speaking Truth to Power”

  1. What you experience is the result of MDI’s concentration on only one type of leadership style..Authoritarian-“Chain of Command”. I agree that listening is a key component in any leader though we would do better then hearing someones “truth” and concentrate more on divining more a person’s “interest vs their position.”

  2. I was profoundly moved by the descriptor of the Code of Honor tenet “Earn and Honor Rank”. After seven years of MDI leadership stifling my and other men’s contrary input with the stern, finger-poked delivery of, “Hey Arnold, Earn and Honor Rank!”, it was with enlightened relief I read your input Mr. Spierer on the alternative, and truly inspirational interpretation within the pages of this site.

    In essence, we earn our leadership roles by honoring the men we are chosen to lead, and we honor that rank when we step aside with our steadfast adherence to the models we established there, and our input when needed to the men who take our place.

    EARN the leadership roles we accept
    AND adhere to impeccable standards while there, then
    HONOR the men by continuing living the impeccable standards of that
    RANK when we step down

    The lesson behind your words here is most poignant; so too is the fact that your Code of Honor tenet reflections are no longer available to we who have been honored by your truth.


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