Most of us know the movie where Jack Nicholson glares at Tom Cruise in a military court and yells “you want the truth…..you can’t handle the truth!!”
The fact is that the character played by Jack Nicholson was the one who couldn’t handle the truth! What he couldn’t handle was his own truth being exposed back at him and his reaction was actually defensive even though it was accusatory. How often have we gone down a path, progressed a project or made a choice and not too far down the road we realise that maybe it was a bit flawed. The last thing we want at that stage is someone coming along and pointing that out to us isn’t it.
Continuously I see key leaders and executives pushing on with a program, project or line that is fundamentally flawed however they will pursue it through to its conclusion. Why? Because they live in fear of looking foolish. Is it because we all actually “cant handle the truth”? We all want to be told the truth ..... Don’t we? Yet we continually tell people what we think “they want to hear” rather than the truth? Naaah your not fat you look great!
We sanitise our reports because we need to show our superiors we have it under control and, don’t go to your boss with problems only solutions etc. These subtle messages become implanted in our heads and are further influenced by a culture and training that says success is measured by your achievements and completing projects “on time” and “on budget”. This thinking provides little safe space for team members to be able to identify, shut down or challenge anything. We have been taught to put aside our fears and to move forward in uncertainty however we have not supported the need to also stop!
Do we have the courage to be proactive in stating that we need to change and reverse our decisions or admit that we got it wrong (even if it was so long ago) or are we inadvertently creating fear in those around us in light or our own fear. Jack Nicholson - “You can’t handle the truth”.
What would really happen if you front the Boss, Director, Board or Minister and say “I recommend that we “pause” this project until we can confidently confirm it will deliver what we thought it would before we lose any more money or commit any more resources” OR “given the information and signs that I now observe I would like to change my recommendation on this matter”.
Remember the story about the Emperor with no clothes. Most people can see the truth. But who can really handle it?
Are you running a business, project or program that you know is flawed but are continuing purely out of fear? Are you being driven by politics (internal or external)?
Have a look at the real outcome and be prepared to challenge OR be challenged on what you’re doing.
Interestingly enough the title of the movie was "A few good men". Maybe we need a few more.
Can you handle the truth?