Your relationship with the truth is essential to your ability to lead. How aggressively do you seek out the truth about you and your team? How comfortable are you with the truth? How willing are you to recognize it and process it? Are you strong enough to deal with the truth every day?
One thing I’ve found to be most common amongst the kids I’ve coached – they want the truth, and they appreciate hearing the truth. Are there some who avoid the truth and don’t want to hear it? Absolutely. But those are kids who you won’t want on your team to begin with. You can spot those kids pretty early (if you are willing to see the truth) and either address it with them or remove them from the situation. I’ve never come across a kid who wanted to win, who was willing to commit to excellence, who didn’t appreciate the truth.
I have seen a number of coaches at all levels who don’t like to deal with the truth. That may surprise you, and it surprised me at first. You’d think any coach or leader is going to say they want to deal in reality. But in practice for many that is not the case. So many coaches want to deal with what makes them feel better or what will get them past a difficult moment. They don’t want to recognize or deal with the truth.
Insecurity is pretty common amongst leadership, probably more common than you would think. There’s a lot of pressure on the leader of any organization at any level. Even just to stand in front of a small group and deliver a message, to have them counting on you for direction, comes with pressure. There is such a dynamic nature to leadership as well, with variables and constant change always a factor. You never really know what to expect so you have to be prepared for change. This can lead to a lack of preparation. So much can change and if things are going to be different tomorrow, I’ll just deal with it when I see what happens. But not knowing what to expect isn’t a good excuse for a lack of preparation – it’s actually a strong argument for better preparation.
If you aren’t dealing with the truth you are losing credibility with your team every day. And once trust starts to erode, it’s really hard to get it back. If you screw something up, admit it to your team and tell them you’ll do better. If you get a technical foul and you tell your guys “I was just fighting for you guys” when the reality of you just lost control of your emotions, they’ll see right through it. If guys finish a couple of seconds short in a sprint at the end of practice and you just clap and yell “bring it in” to keep things moving, they’ll see right through it. If one of your players wants to play more, and you keep avoiding the real conversation and just tell him “keep working, you’ll get your chance,” he’s going to see right though it. If it makes you feel better to say “we just missed so many open shots” when the reality is you got outplayed by a team that was better prepared, your entire staff and team will see right through it. If you say “we are 3-4 possessions out of second place” because you’ve lost a few close games, the reality is you are 3-5 in the league because you aren’t good enough.
It’s easy and somewhat common as a leader to choose a narrative that makes us feel comfortable but isn’t necessarily rooted in reality. If you want to be effective and really command buy-in from your team, you have to fight this. You aren’t fooling your players, not one bit. Get comfortable with the truth. Surround yourself with people who will give it to you, regardless if it makes you feel good. Get comfortable with the idea of raw truth, good or bad, after a game, after watching film, in a team meeting. Learn to expect people to give you differing opinions and take the time to process them. Develop a relationship with the truth and embrace it.
It’s still surprising to me to see how many leaders aren’t comfortable with the truth. They don’t want to hear it directly if it doesn’t fit their own narrative, and they control it to the point where the people around them aren’t comfortable speaking the truth. They also impose the opinions that make them feel better on their players, thinking they can communicate to them what they should believe. Leaders need to hear the truth and deal in the truth, always. Yet they often don’t because they create an environment around them that controls the message to make themselves comfortable.
Take a hard look at your relationship with the truth. Ask the people you trust the most for direct thoughts on how you deal with it. The right relationship with the truth is essential to effective leadership.