In Stephen M.R. Covey’s book The Speed of Trust, he talks about “Straight Talk” as one of the 13 Character Behaviors that establish trust in a leader. Covey describes Straight Talk this way:
“Talk Straight” is honest in action. It’s based on the principles of integrity, honesty, and straightforwardness. It means two things: to tell the truth and to leave the right impression. And both are vital to building trust. It’s possible to to tell the truth and to leave the wrong impression. Leaving the right impression means communicating so clearly that you cannot be misunderstood.
The opposite of Straight Talk is spin, which Covey describes this way:
Instead of straight talk, much of organizational life is filled with spin. This creates what I call a “spin tax,” and is one of the main reasons why trust is low in so many organizations. When people keep hearing spin from their leaders, they tend to become skeptical and cynical – much in the same way that many people respond to politicians and their perpetual spin.
We are currently living in a political climate that relies more and more on spin in order to create a desired perception. Leveraging social media, websites, email, and text are becoming ever-increasingly popular ways to reach the public while keeping them at arm’s length. For a politician, this is an ideal scenario. With the push of a button on their phone, they can influence an infinite number of people. Yet, they don’t have to be responsible for any kind of action. It’s all about building the desired perception. Perfect for a politician. (And what do the approval ratings currently look like for politicians? Exactly.)
Unfortunately, I’m witnessing this approach infiltrate itself into various levels of leadership within public education. I fear that our “leaders” are working against the attributes that foster trust in the people they lead and communities they serve. Time and time again I am hearing spin. Wordsmithing. Deliberate, careful, and self-centered dialog. Most of it through digital platforms without much human interaction.
The result? Less and less transparency. Distrust. Misaligned intent. All of which has enormous impact on the thousands of students, staff, and community members that rely on these people to lead us in our mission of fulfilling our promise of preparation for every student.
As I participate in this year’s cohort of Leadership Fellows, I find myself more aware of ideal leadership attributes, and the fact that so many leaders – in all levels of our system – lack these attributes. Yet we all agree they are critical. High integrity. Good intent. Competence. Transparency. The ability to deliver results. These are the attributes we want in every leader, from school Principal to American President. If we know what makes an effective leader, then why do we see so many people failing to carry that flag? Well, many people struggle with remaining transparent and honest when under scrutiny. I know that it can be tough. I have acted as company spokesperson for a number of very difficult television interviews and it would have been much easier to limit access to information and paint an ideal picture through a press release.
But that approach calls into question everything good that I just described – integrity, intent, competence, transparency, and results.
For now, my mission is to continue to ensure that I follow the path to effective leadership. My path will become obscure at times and there will be easier options presented, but it will be imperative that I continue to do the right things for the right reasons. Remain focused on the people I serve and who are affected by my decisions. Communicate effectively and responsibly. Eliminate spin. Display accountability and leadership – even when people may not be watching.
Perhaps this approach will be seen and emulated by others. Hopefully people will see it as desirable and effective. Only then can we begin to get this big ship moving again in the right direction.
It’s All About People
“The secret, the clue, the common thread is simply how you treat folks. It’s how you treat your fellow man, and how you treat your team members, and how you treat your customers, regulators, your general public, your audiences, your communities. How you value the worth of an individual, how you bring the human factor into real importance and not just a statement you make in your annual report.”
James Blanchard, Chairman, Synovus Financial Corporation (One of Fortune Magazine’s 100 best companies to work for in America)