Life isn’t perfect and rosy. It’d be nice, but it’s alright to be honest. Stuff happens. Sometimes there are a lot of pieces to pick up and put back together, or to scrap in favor of something new.
But fixing troubles isn’t easy, either. It gets worse depending upon the number of people involved in the situation, and how long the trouble has gone on. Eventually someone has to step up and tell the hard truth, to tell it like it is so the group can move on to what is possible.
Enter the leader. It doesn’t matter if you’re an unknown team leader in a large company or if you are in full time church ministry. When there’s a problem and nothing is getting better, you have to be the one to paint the picture for everyone.
Most leaders give up right here. They don’t tell the hard truth, don’t uncover the deeper issues, and don’t make the truth of the situation plain. Maybe they’re afraid no one will listen, which happens in ministry. What if they lose their job over it? Some don’t think they can get the words out without starting a firestorm.
If you’re facing a situation where it falls on you to shed light on the troubles of your team or organization, don’t step away from your responsibility. If you don’t do it, who will? Where will it all end up then?
Instead, let me give you six tips to telling the hard truth in a way that your message will have a better chance of surviving the telling process.
- Prepare. Whatever you do, don’t “wing it.” You may have gone over it a thousand times in your head, but you need to put it to paper. First of all, preparation is about processing the information. It gives you a chance to decide if you really must go in the direction you’re headed. Preparation also gives you an idea of how your words will actually sound to the hearers, and helps you avoid saying things you don’t mean. When you are prepared, your emotions have less chance of dictating your presentation and your responses.
- Stay Calm. Leaders tend to be emotionally invested in their work. You care a lot about what you are leading, and that care is probably one of the main reasons you took the position of leadership. But if you stand before your group and get angry, your team will think you’re picking a fight. Keep your tone even, speak at a regular pace. If it helps, just read what you wrote and don’t make eye contact with anyone. When your emotions are in check, those listening to you will do their best to keep calm, too.
- Be Blunt. We like to sugar-coat the truth. Somehow we believe it will make the pill easier to swallow, which means you probably watched Mary Poppins as a kid. It also helps us get it out of our mouths. Yet sugar-coating often makes the pill slide so fast that no one knows what it was for. The hard truth is a specific truth, and if it isn’t addressed it will have specific ramifications. Don’t be mean, but tell it like it really is.
- Don’t Accuse. The worst thing a leader could do when telling the hard truth is get in front of everyone and start pointing fingers. Our goal for sharing the truth should be to get everyone united towards making progress, moving forward, and avoid the same mistakes in the future. When we accuse, even if we have the right people pulled from the crowd, we declare war. Instead of rallying together in unity we draw a battle line. An internal struggle will only make things worse.
- Instill Hope. If our message is only about condemnation and judgment, or about how everything is ruined, we won’t be able to gather the energy required to move forward. Instead, people will give up. Why would anyone bother making an effort if it’s so bad? We need to give hope that a future is possible. This is one reason these talks are so important. If we wait until there is no hope, we’ve failed. But if we are brave and get the word out while there is still time, we can rally the troops with hope for what is possible.
- Expect Push-back. Even the greatest leader can’t lead everyone. There will always be a group who continues to deny the truth after it’s finally out there. Some people just don’t want to believe the facts, or don’t want to believe you. They believe everything is fine and they’re “all good,” and you shouldn’t get all worked up about it. If you did your homework, their denial won’t be able to confuse. But don’t let it frustrate you, either. We used to say, “Just smile and nod.” Focus on those who are with you and are willing to invest. The deniers will either catch up or miss out.
There is one more thing to keep in mind, and that is the power of prayer. Remember, these tips are for before you share the hard truth. It isn’t part of this list because you should be praying throughout the process.
Let God lead you into the truth of your situation. Compare your troubles and your plan with Scripture. Ask God to inspire your words and to keep you calm. And when you’ve finished sharing the hard truth, keep on praying.
Don’t let the hard truth scare you into inaction. Our teams at work and our congregations at church need leaders, though not everyone understands it. They need someone to reveal the difficult truths of our situations. You were given the responsibility because someone, somewhere, knew you were capable of doing what needs to be done.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1 NIV)