The ability to be truthful goes directly to the heart of whether you get funding, attract customers and recruit great employees. But that is just one part of it. The ability to be wrong can determine if you survive at all.
We’ve all had bosses, friends and relatives that just couldn’t admit they’d made a mistake. We know how we feel when we know the facts and someone tells us we’re wrong or don’t understand. The longer we are in that environment, the less we trust the person, the more we doubt reality, or both.
Make no mistake, we presently live in a say anything to win environment. Sometimes people are intentionally dishonest. These situations tend to be self-liquidating. Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, who famously said that having a backup plan is admitting failure, is the latest example where outright deceit brought someone crashing down. While spectacular, these cases relatively rare.
What is far more common is that our egos get in the way of information. Our pride affects our judgement. Seeing trends and information that can help us is dependent on being able to do something basic: admitting, at least to ourselves, that we are wrong.
When we make a misstep, two things are occurring: first, the environment is sending cues that we need to change something or there will be consequences. Second, it’s a test of our ability to be truthful.
We’ve worked with owners who were convinced the structural problems in their businesses were temporary, or the fault of the economy, or because of lazy employees, or… you name it. We have heard everything you can imagine. It is rare for people to own the choices that got them to the bad spot they’re in. What we’ve learned is that until that admission is made, the ability to see the way out is clouded by wishful thinking, blamestorming, anger and self-doubt.
When we are wrong about something we have two choices. First we can blame our circumstances on something other than our choices. Even if other factors are at play, even if the economy did turn or our product falls out of favor, blaming those circumstances robs us of the power to change our situation. We seek to justify ourselves and our decisions, but that action does nothing to move us from the place we find ourselves in. It only leads to futility and frustration and usually, more cycles of blaming and justification.
The second option is to take responsibility for the choices we’ve made and the things we’ve done so we can get past them. There is the sting of recognition, but that will fade and we will be able to see clearly what our real options are. We have freedom of movement. We have choices, and while sometimes they may be a collection of bad ones, at least they are real. We can measure and understand their implications.
It’s an uncomfortable place, to sit in full responsibility for a decision that trashed you. It feels bad. You feel angry. It makes you feel stupid. Notice all those feelings I’m describing. It’s an emotional cauldron. But while it’s uncomfortable, It’s also one of the most powerful places you can be. If you harness those emotions, the energy will likely propel you to a much better reality.
Too many times entrepreneurs living in the fake it till you make it mode that start-ups (and sometimes on-going businesses) require, are not honest with themselves about where they are. They fudge a financial statement, they lie about a delivery date, they promise employees rewards that are fairy tales appealing to their greed. Each of these actions, defensible in the moment, becomes a brick in a wall that ultimately obscures our vision and walls us off from the people we need to be successful and, in all likelihood, happy.
‘Virtue is its own reward’ is a statement that many will scoff at in the reality TV world we’re living. But when others, and most importantly, you, can count on you to be straight, then just about any other problem is fixable. Being able to say, ‘I’m wrong’, is one of the most courageous, and strong, things a person can do.