The Vital Lie

I recently listened to a dialog between Warren Bennis and Daniel Goleman on transparency.  The question they were reflecting upon was:  “Is Transparency Inevitable?”

I thought it might be fun to blog about this topic so I share below some of the take-aways for me from their conversation (which by the way is on a CD and entitled, “The Power of Truth: A Leading with Emotional Intelligence Conversation with Warren Bennis).

Daniel asked Warren why he felt transparency is inevitable.  Warren’s response?  Mainly because:

  • People need truth to operate effectively and efficiently;
  • Truth will make organizations and leaders more effective, more efficient and get more work, “capacity to motivate” out of people;
  • Transparency is like oxygen;

During this dialog they explored the obstacles to transparency.  And the idea that there are hidden ground rules to what we can and cannot say.  Such as, in any organization, there are four unspoken rules:

1. Here’s what we notice
2. Here’s what we say about them
3. Here’s what we don’t notice
4. We never say anything to outsiders about that third category – (Henry Gibson called this the “Vital Lie” — the operative fiction that hides a painful truth.)

Stephen M.R. Covey in his best selling book, “The Speed of Trust“, defines the counterfeits of “creating transparency” creating illusion, pretending, “seeming” rather than being and making things different than they appear.

Of course, we all have worked in places where no one addressed the problem that everyone knew about:  the peak performer who wasn’t held to the same rules as others; the budget games where numbers are exaggerated or the “story” isn’t clear; the arrogant doctor who makes mistakes but nurses are afraid to point them out.

So, just for fun… take a moment and consider your “vital lies”.  And begin to think about what you can do as a leader to practice creating transparency and to create “a culture of candor.”

>> Do you have a great example of a vital lie or how a leader can create transparency? Please share.

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