Truth-Tellers, Part 2: Are You a Cowardly Leader?

Welcome to Part 2 of Truth-Tellers.

In Part 1, I shared how my mentor, and Disney University founder Van France, was the definition of a “Robinhood of Honesty,” and he slung truth arrows in every direction … even at himself. During his Disney career, Van helped every Disney employee, (including Walt Disney) improve via his tough-love truth telling approach.

And this is the problem; very few leaders encourage their subordinates, and colleagues, to provide them brutally honest feedback. Too many leaders surround themselves with head-nodding robots who agree with everything they say or do.

These leaders are cowards.

As a consultant to organizations of all sizes—from family-owned businesses to multinational corporations—I’m often the one providing brutally honest feedback to the top executives. Why must I be the slinger of truth arrows? Because the executives and middle managers in these organizations are afraid to be honest with The Boss … whomever that may be.

The reality in many organizations is:

Speak up, and your days are numbered.

Who’s to blame for this culture of fear? The person at the top of the organization. Organizational culture always starts at the top, and this is one of the reasons Van France was so successful; Walt Disney welcomed Van’s arrows of honesty.

Even though Walt could be a challenging taskmaster, he asked for—and acted upon—honest feedback from everyone in the Disney organization … from C-level executives at the Disney Studios, to hourly employees at Disneyland.

During this post-Covid era of tumultuous change, I encourage every leader and organization to assess the health of their organizational culture. We’ve all struggled … including my former employer, The Walt Disney Company.

Which do you, and your culture, encourage:

  1. Head-nodding robots who are afraid to speak up? Or,
  2. “Robinhoods of Honesty” who sling arrows of truth your way?

Are you a cowardly leader?