spaghetti and meatballs

When my friend Mary-Beth has to tell you a hard truth to hear, she lets you know it’s coming with a gentle warning: “Now, that’s a spicy meatball!”

This is fair warning because hard truths aren’t always easy to serve—and by definition, they sure aren’t easy to digest. But truth-telling—especially the hard truths—can be the greatest gifts we can offer our organizations, our colleagues, and ourselves.

Recently, I delivered a research report to a much-respected and well-beloved client. The report was the culmination of a deep dive into the organization: interviews with leaders, months of conversations, and plenty of hands-on work with their team.

Some of our research findings were glowing success stories of impact and achievements that advanced their field. But some findings weren’t so glowing. The LightBox Collaborative team labored over these sections of the report, revising until each word was chosen just so. We worked to deliver the news with the dignity, respect—and yes, hard truth—that their important work deserved. But, on the day we delivered the report, I still had a pit in my stomach…

Because truth-telling is scary. For the person doing the truth-telling, it can feel like confronting the Great and Powerful Oz. For the person on the receiving end, it can feel a lot like being compared to the Emperor with No Clothes. For both parties, it can trigger fears of power, exposure, recrimination, and retaliation. Truth-telling is risky business.

But, in that risk lies the true power of telling it like it is. Truth-telling means that you are willing to break from the status quo to push toward something better. Truth-telling is an expression of integrity. Candor, tempered with respect, is a gift. Telling it like it is, well, is an act of leadership.

So, what’s the spicy meatball you should be serving up? What’s the truth waiting to be told?

(image courtesy Flickr user pcarpen, Creative Commons)
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Holly Minch is LightBox Collaborative’s chief engineer and founder, helping do-gooders be stronger, more strategic leaders. By far, her favorite meatballs are at Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack in San Francisco.