Telling Truth to Authority

by Arlen Meyers

Telling Truth to Authority

It’s never easy telling truth to authority and, in many instances, it’s not only risky but can be fatal to your job or even your career. Yet, most pundits agree that great leaders should encourage truth telling, not stifle it.

Why is it so hard to do the right thing?

1. People are inherently flawed, “broken branches” and turn a blind eye to their foibles

2. The world is getting more complicated with intertwined conflicts of interest that often fall in the grey zone

3. Society has become more permissive

4. People think they can get away with it. They are often right, particularly when you have power, influence or money.

5. Rules of civility have become more lax

6. A possible decline in self-disiplinary skills and delayed gratification. More and more people choosing the one marshmellow over two later on.

7. A media and communications culture that showcases the Big Me over the Little Me.

8. Pressure from investors and shareholders at the expense of patients because the stakes are getting bigger.

9. A culture of entrepreneurship that fosters an ethos of win at all costs, short term thinking and creating shareholder value at the expense of employees.

10. The differences between the ethics of business and the ethics of medicine.

11. It could be career suicide

12. Why suffer the consequences of being a whistleblower when you really don’t care that much about your boss or oganization anyway?

Here are some things to consider before you knock on the door:

1. You probably already know whether your boss will encourage you to say the truth, or whether you are dealing with Francis Underwood.

2. It’s best to build as much personal brand equity and power as possible before putting it on the line.

3. Have Plan B. What will you do if you are ignored or, worse case, marginalized or get an adverse performance appraisal.

4. There is a difference between being a truth teller, an eminence grise and a devil’s advocate. You might have more cover being one v the other.

5. Be sure you don’t drill holes below the water line

6. Take the high ground and don’t make this about trying to upstage your boss unless you are willing to suffer the consequences

7. Find trusted partners and allies to hear your ideas in confidence before making them public.

8. If you are the leader, encourage truth telling and avoid retaliation

9. Come with solutions, not problems.

10. Find other outlets to make your ideas and feelings known that are less threatening within the organization.

Try being a good rebel instead of a bad one.

Here are some tips on not just when, but how to tell truth to authority.

Here are four other suggestions you may want to consider.

Truth telling and truth listening is a core entrepreneurial skill. However, some people “just can’t handle the truth”. Don’t be one of them or you’ll suffer the same fate as Colonel Nathan Jessup.

 
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Arlen MyersArlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org and co-editor of Digital Health Entrepreneurship

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