The CEO navigates the team along the path of her long-term strategic vision. She is also the public face of the company. These responsibilities involve a lot of different skills. Yet there is one skill that all CEOs especially must practice: The courageous ability to tell the hard truth no matter what.
Peter Bregman, who advises CEOs and their leadership teams in his program the Bregman Leadership Intensive, writes in Harvard Business Review that there is no more important task for a CEO.
"The biggest challenge we face as leaders is rarely about discovering the perfect strategy or developing a smarter product or figuring out the gaps in the business. It's about being courageous enough and willing to take the risks necessary to talk about the difficult, sometimes scary truth and do something about it," Bregman writes.
A CEO needs to be uninhibited when it comes to critiquing work, finding faults in the business, or explaining where the company is and what it needs to do to achieve its goals. This idea is central to being a great leader. As Apple design guru Jony Ive told Vanity Fair he learned from Steve Jobs, "it's more important to do really great work than to placate people and their emotions at the expense of great work."
Why don't we tell the truth as leaders? For one, Bregman says it's easy to lie or "be nice" by not telling employees what they need to hear. "How many of us would prefer to keep the peace and avoid being the naysayer? Or prioritize being seen as a team player over identifying problems that may lie in someone else's department? Or downplay an issue of our own team, hoping we'll be able to fix it before anyone notices?" he writes.
Too often we let certain social customs and other factors control our actions. "We allow politics to supersede performance. And it's hurting good organizations," Bregman says. "In fact, I'd say that there's little value to having senior leaders in an organization who don't speak their minds."
To make sure your executives are telling you about "gaps in the business," a bad hire, a data leak, a bad deal, or how your leadership style is alienating employees, you need to buck up and start telling the hard truth. You must be the example of an adept leader addressing sensitive topics.
Above all, Bregman writes: "Courage underlies all smart risk-taking. And no company can grow without leaders who are willing to take risks. If we don't speak the truth about what we see and what we think, then it's unlikely that we'll take the smart risks necessary to lead."