Leaders: Speak Honestly

Like you, I’ve been thinking a lot about the events of the last 24 hours, and what it says about us as a country, a people, and about leadership and communication.

I’ve had both a sense of helplessness and a deep sadness as I saw the seat of our democratic institutions attacked by terrorists fueled by lies and mistruths — and a failure by their leaders to speak honestly about so many issues, chiefly the results of the last election. And one overriding principle keeps rising to the surface: bad things happen when you don’t speak the truth. Honesty matters. We must commit to the truth always.

My most formative professional experience was working as a communications director in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives in the years just after 9/11. Seeing yesterday’s attacks hit home because we see how fragile and idea of self-government is especially when you’re doing it. And because I know how hard and well-meaning the vast majority of Congressional staff are, and how scary it can be to have your offices and your elected representatives threatened and attacked. Never could I imagine the day the floor of the US Senate would be disrespected in the way it was.

As communications professionals and as leaders, this is an important and teachable moment for us, especially. Yesterday was a prime, vivid example of what happens when leaders don’t speak the truth, when we are not honest and when we don’t confront the realities of the world we live in.

Words matter, and honesty matters. Even (and especially) when it’s a hard truth or one we don’t like. Leaders speak the truth even when it hurts. That’s what leadership is. It’s why I titled my first book, “Honestly Speaking.”

The best leaders — of politics, or any industry or organization, are clear and unequivocal in denouncing hate and violence. Many leaders have done this in the last 24 hours.

The best leaders show empathy and care for their people. They express understanding and acknowledgement that people feel and internalize events like yesterday deeply and differently. They don’t obscure, or obfuscate, or omit.

And the best leaders speak honestly always. Even (especially) when you don’t like the truth or you don’t feel comfortable with it.

I hope that in 2021 every leader I am blessed to work with and every leader out there recommits to being honest, clear, and truthful in speaking and communicating with every supporter, detractor, employee, and colleague alike. In big moments, in small ones, and every conversation in between.

It starts with me and it starts with you.

I published a book in 2019 called “Honestly Speaking” with lots of tips and suggestions on how to do this well. Check it out.

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