Saturday, March 03, 2007

THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, & NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH: THE WAY OF ORGANIZATIONAL HEALING

"Since untruths can be unintentional, the truth must be intentional" Arline Belton

The greatest obstacles to truth telling are: "time is limited" and fear that "truth will hurt us, or someone or something we care about." Arline Belton
I'd never heard of an "Organizational Healer" before. That is, until I read Erline Belton's article Truth or Consequences? in the NonProfit Quarterly.

I offer an executive summary of the article, but highly recommend reading the real thing.

Arline is the CEO of the Lyceum Group in Boston. She has been identified by clients as an organization healer, and feels honored to be of service as she practices organization development from her heart and head.

It seems like honesty would be a given in the nonprofit sector; afterall we're the good guys right? Yes and No. Arline identifies barriers to telling the truth:

  • Groupthink (you are a team player AREN'T YOU?)
  • Imaginary Conflicts
  • Hidden Agendas
Why would anyone lie? Reading the "Conditions that support untruths" makes it all too clear:
  • Exaggerating or underplaying the truth: This is often done for one’s own benefit, for that of the team, or for a teammate. These lies usually reflect (or exceed) desired expected outcomes.
  • Shading the truth (it's noble to protect yourself and your team right?)
  • Beating around the bush - the "smoke screen" (can't say no? delay it!)
  • Pretending certainty or expertise: (Don't want anybody to think you're not on top of it do you?)
  • Not letting others know your true position: (Anyone heard of a CYA memo?)
  • Consciously withholding relevant info: (Don't want to loose your power? Keep important info to yourself)
  • Perceptions of powerlessness: (I have a strong leader, I must not know what I'm talking about, must be my imagination!)
  • Perceptions of invulnerability: (I'm “in the know”, after all I have a unique advantage over others who are outside the average circle; i'd never get careless and let facts slide by without diligent examination and discussion!)
  • Misplaced loyalty: (Oh heck, I've known him a long time, I can still be objective about performance and job competence!)
  • Self-deception (probably the worst and the easiest path of least resistance, I can't fall prey to this one!)
After reading that list it's a miracle we just don't lie all the time; fortunately here are conditions that support truth, that just might be a check and balance to the daunting challenges listed above:
  • Individual examination/accountability: The critical role of the leader: through consent that is informed, uncompelled, and mutual.
  • Visible commitment to truth telling: Explaining thoughts, acknowledging the power of our words, and being accountable to one another for our actions will demonstrate that concept.
  • Collective truths and collective responsibility: It's all about ownership! Hint: it involves personal risk, courage and time, darn it!
  • The Whole Truth: Access to reliable, solid, and truthful information is the one commodity every person, regardless of role or position, needs in order to succeed.
Arline identifies four critical components to the whole truth: "information must be complete, timely, accurate, and true."
  • Information Flow: "All available facts and information (including personal stories, feelings, and visible and invisible reactions) are on the table in an accurate and accessible way;" Now, who's crazy enough to do that?
  • Free choice, sustained environmental spirit, safety: There can't even be "a hint of social, political, or economic coercion." How do you know when it is “safe” to tell the truth? Actions speak louder than words: "there must be visible examples of situations where the truth was told, acknowledged, and acted on—and the consequences were not punitive."

Now go read the whole thing, it's amazing! And buy some copies for everyone at your place!

This article was so on-point that I feel compelled to plug NPQ. For only $29 bucks a year you get four issues of seriously high-quality articles. OK, voluntary commercial message over!

Note: no payment was received for this endorsement.



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