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To Tell the Truth (Second Draft)

May 8, 2003
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As a journalist, I never (occasionally) let my personal feelings aboutbusiness executives (idiots) influence my coverage of events. Take thechallenges (fiasco) at United Airlines, for example. The difficulties(stupidities) that caused the airline to file for bankruptcy earlier this yearwere unfortunate (predictable). When you’ve got strong (insatiable) laborunions, demanding (cry baby) employees and ambitious (unrealistic) profit goals,combined with a travel market that suffered a serious setback (got its asskicked) because of 9-11, what alternatives did United’s executives have?

You see, fairness and objectivity are necessary for journalists to do theirjobs (keep their jobs). There’s a time and place for opinion, and good writers(who’ve been fired before) know the difference.

The same is true for human resource executives, who are charged with theawesome (impossible) responsibility of motivating (babysitting) today’semployees. Instead of freely speaking their minds, these top executives areoften forced by their innate professionalism (the axis of evil) to toe thecompany line. And that’s okay. There are times in life when it’s importantto speak one’s mind and times when it’s vital to squelch one’s ferventopinions (although I can’t think of any examples right now).

But one has to wonder. What might happen if more people in the workplace werewilling to speak their minds more often? What might happen, say, if accountingirregularities (atrocities) were brought to light sooner by courageousemployees? If more people were willing to question large (obscene, immoral,offensive) executive salaries? If more human resources people admitted they didn’thave all the answers all the time?

This is my (hugely egotistical and opinionated) belief: if employees wereallowed to engage in honest dialogue without fear of retribution (lynching),then many of the problems faced by companies today would not exist. Soundsimplistic? Maybe so.

But look at some of the organizational failures making news: (greedy)inflated revenues at AOL, (greedy) price-fixing at Christie’s auction house,(greedy) insider trading at ImClone. All these crimes might have been prevented,or the damage minimized, if in-the-know employees were allowed to speak theirminds, and--here’s the important part--be heard by management. Who knows?Had their employees been more forthright, perhaps Kimberly-Clark’s executivesmight have been persuaded not to introduce its new premoistened toilet paperwith the slogan, "Sometimes wetter is better." One can only hope.

Now, I realize that we all censor our speech in real life in order to getalong. I agree, Jeb, "Jackass" was a highly provocative (moronic) film.Country Buffet for our anniversary? I’d love to, hon. But the workplace is nota place where go-with-the-flow conversation really helps anybody, except formaybe the higher-ups who are too unwilling (lily-livered) to be challenged.


Speaking the truth may be risky, but wouldn't you rather be known as an independent thinker than a sycophant? I would. Especially now that I've looked up the word sycophant and know what it means.

Furthermore, it’s tough to tell the truth. Especially when the truth is badnews. Or when you don’t want to make waves. Or when the truth has to do with amonumental screw-up that was entirely your fault. But (in my hugely egotisticaland opinionated view) the fact is: truth-telling, in the long run, can’t helpbut do more good than harm, no matter how difficult it may be. Speaking thetruth may be risky, but wouldn’t you rather be known as an independent thinkerthan a sycophant? I would, especially now that I’ve looked up the wordsycophant and know what it means.

Speaking of independent thinkers, I’ve always admired management guru PeterDrucker because of his forthright opinions about the corporate world. Take thisquote, for example:

"No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen tomanage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under aleadership composed of average human beings."

Imagine if Drucker were to have soft-pedaled his opinions in order to suck upto managers. The quote might have read: "Geniuses and supermen manage humanbeings." And Drucker would have spent his career asking, "Would you likefries with that?"

Which is how it is in the business world. People who strive to get along getalong but they don’t go anywhere. At least not for long. Or in any meaningfulway. Whereas people who speak their minds are risk-takers (much braver than Iam) who know that wetter is not, in fact, better and have the guts to say so.

Workforce, May 2003, p. 22 -- Subscribe Now!


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