Hard Truth Can Hurt. And Help.

Last week, I was consulting with an executive team.

We were discussing a leader’s competence.  As a leader, the measure of your competence isn’t set by you:  it’s set by the people you lead.

Tom, a VP of Operations, shared a story from a professor when he was in business school that relates to a leader’s competence. My professor was in his first semester teaching at our rather prestigious Business School. He was excited about his appointment on the faculty, and would hurry down the halls of the school on the way to his office every morning before he’d teach class.

One December morning, he was making his way as usual to his office, when he passed a janitor in the hallway.

The janitor yelled at him:  “F*#! You!” The professor was completely shocked and taken aback.  All he could manage to say was,“What? Are you OK?”

The janitor continued:

“You’ve been here all semester.  Every morning you’ve passed me in the hall, and I’ve said good morning to you every single day.  You’ve completely ignored me.  So F*#! You.

”The professor went to his office, and, after calming down, realized that the janitor was right.  He did walk past people.  If he was really honest with himself, he focused his attention only on people who could help him.

That story has stuck with me ever since he told it to us in our first year class.Tom’s story is not unique.  Some 40 years ago, Malcolm Forbes said, “You can judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

What was true in Forbes’ day still rings true.

Too many leaders still create cultures where they only hear what they want to hear.

Some people call this CEO disease.

Sufferers of CEO disease live in a bubble, and lose touch with what’s really going on.

Sometimes hearing the truth—no matter how painful—can be the best thing to help you to grow.

What “hard truth” has helped you to grow as a leader?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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