The Emperor's New Clothes was a favorite childhood story of mine. It made me laugh. I couldn't believe all those adults were standing around, watching the emperor make a fool of himself and not telling him the truth. When I grew up and went to work, I discovered it wasn't that easy.
In twenty years in management, I found the majority of people operated like the Emperor's ministers: people more concerned with personally looking foolish, than venturing feedback; more concerned with what they thought they should say, than saying what needed to be said; and more concerned with figuring out what they thought the boss wanted to hear, than offering their point of view. Luckily, there were exceptions.
In order to succeed, I needed people to stop me from being like the emperor in the children's fable. I needed people willing to state the truth, at least the truth as they saw it; people willing to push back, challenge, and tell me things I may not have wanted, but needed, to hear. Now that I'm an author, speaker, and consultant, my criterion remains the same. I need people to tell me the truth when the truth needs telling, whether I ask or not.
I may not always like what they have to say, but I'm glad they said it. I may not always take their advice, but I appreciate they offered it. And I may not always agree with them, but I know to listen deeply and consider it.
I've been saved from countless mistakes, errors in judgments and blind spots by these exceptional people offering their truth-telling gift. They've helped me keep my balance, gain perspective, and make decisions. They've helped me grow.
"Your idea is off-base," she ventured. "It's not going to connect with people." Words from a trusted colleague cautioned me to rethink an important launch. In the end, she was right. It wasn't a good idea. Her words saved me more than the certain embarrassment of a failed initiative. Money, resources, and time were at stake, too.
If you want to be winning at working, look for people like this to help you. You'll know them by their candor. They're the ones not working a personal agenda who have yours or the company's best interests at heart; the ones able to see the big picture who are comfortable offering their no-strings attached perspectives; and the ones bringing difficult messages surrounded with good intentions.
These are the people telling the truth as they see it, who are willing to pull you back from the edge or push you out of an unproductive loop. I'm indebted to these people in my career. My advice? Realize you need all the help you can get.
Find a few truth-telling people you can trust. You especially need them now, in an era where skeptical has turned cynical in most workplaces. Find those who have the courage and forthrightness, like the child in Hans Christian Andersen's, The Emperor's New Clothes. I don't know about you, but if I'm out there without clothes, it's a sure bet I want someone to tell me.
(c) 2010 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.
Award winning author of Hitting Your Stride (Capital Books; 2008). Nationally syndicated radio host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell." Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at http://www.nanrussell.com; follow on twitter @nan_russell