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Honest Leaders, Fearless Followers: A Winning Combo

Quote by Warren Bennis

"Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination."

~ Warren G. Bennis

A senior HR director shared with me recently that 'It is becoming rare these days to find teams which have a leader who is willing to listen to the truth without it being sugarcoated and equally to have followers who want to tell the truth without any fear of retribution or loss.'

He lamented how the environment in his organization has changed over the last couple of years with a new leader who is not open to receiving information that does not conform to the leader's version of reality and how that has changed senior leaders and team behavior over the last year. The senior leadership and teams, who used to speak up and tell the truth, now refrain from sharing or share only information that reinforces the leader's views. It is not the best situation for the leader, followers, and the organization. It looks like a slippery slope unless there is an immediate intervention to correct the situation. 

Leaders with a high sense of self-awareness are more confident about themselves and are open to listening to the truth as it opens their vision to see things as they are without any distortion. A higher self-awareness enables them to listen actively without judgment and get a magnificent view of a situation. 

Leaders can develop self-awareness by practicing mindfulness, daily reflective journaling, seeking feedback, reflecting on values and beliefs, challenging assumptions about self and others, embracing vulnerability, learning from experiences, and being compassionate to self and others. 

Followers need to feel psychologically safe and have high trust to encourage them to stand up to leadership and speak the truth. Leaders can create an enabling environment by encouraging open communication, listening actively without judgment, acknowledging their errors and learning from them, providing ongoing constructive feedback, addressing conflicts promptly and fairly, being inclusive, establishing clear expectations, and promoting teamwork and collaboration. 

When this is in place, followers feel safe and valued when speaking up. Importantly, followers must cultivate a habit of speaking up and speaking the truth using the proper construct, drawing up their self-awareness to gain confidence. Some of the critical aspects of the construct to speak out the truth, however bitter it might be, is to choose the right time and place, use constructive language, be specific and provide examples, express your opinion clearly, use the appropriate communication style that suits your leader (diplomatic, straightforward, analytical), practice active listening to understand the perspective of others, own your statements, offer solutions when you can or seek support to find a solution, be persistent in your efforts and consistent with your approach. Finally, actively seek feedback on your communication to refine it. 

Organizations where the leader and followers have open, honest, and authentic communication thrive as it encourages a positive organizational culture, which

  • builds trust

  • improves morale

  • enhances collaboration

  • increases employee engagement

  • reduces conflict

  • improves problem-solving

  • enables personal development

  • increases loyalty

  • builds ownership and accountability

  • reduces stress and anxiety

Honest Leaders, Fearless Followers: A Winning Combo!

Leadership Coaching Questions

  • How can you enhance your self-awareness as a leader to actively listen without judgment and encourage truthful communication within your team?"

  • "How can you create a psychologically safe environment for your followers, promoting trust and empowering them to speak up authentically?"

  • "Reflect on your leadership style: Are you open to acknowledging errors, learning from experiences, and providing ongoing constructive feedback to foster open communication?

Leadership Poll

How can leaders foster a culture where followers speak the truth confidently?

  • Set transparent expectations

  • Encourage open dialogue

  • Cultivate a safe environment

  • Provide constructive feedback

Get Coached

Suggested Readings:

Warren Bennis Quotes,, AZ Quotes 2024., accessed January 24, 2024.

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