Lean Leaders, We Can't Handle the Truth

Mike Wroblewski

In the movie “A Few Good Men”, Jack Nicholson – playing the role of a hard-core, old-school, tough-as-nails Marine colonel – delivers the famous line in a military court, “You can’t handle the truth”, in answer to Tom Cruise’s cross-examination demanding the truth about a code red.

This is a problem for many of us. We can’t handle the truth. Maybe our huge egos prevent us from seeing the truth. Perhaps it is rooted deep in our survival genes to protect us from harm, both physical and non-physical. Maybe it is our arrogance from our over-the-top self-image or self-importance. Whatever the reason, we can’t handle the truth if it is not in alignment with our thinking.

We all believe in truth, however the truth is not always easily believed. What blinds us from seeing the truth? What in our minds automatically blocks us from seeing the truth? Why do we not want to believe the truth? How do our perceptions create different lenses in seeing the truth?

According to Jon Miller in a blog article titled “How to scold like a kaizen sensei”, the role of the sensei is “to speak truth to power in ways that a member of the organization could not.” This honest, insightful and raw truth-telling skill has very powerful results depending on the delivery by the sensei and the reaction of the learner. Regardless if you are an outside consultant or inside the company, there is a risk in truth-telling.

It is easy to see why this truth-telling skill does not work coming from within an organization. Unfortunately, the proverbial “kill the messenger” is alive and well in American business. People who speak the truth are often labeled as a non-team player, a disrupter, a trouble-maker or the current tag of being “not a good fit”. The end result is that the person either quits or is fired.

Have you ever compromised the truth to keep your job? What about keeping silent? How does your company leadership handle the truth? How do you handle the truth?

It doesn’t take much to see that the truth can get watered down, altered or hidden entirely inside a company, especially as it moves vertically up the ladder. We may believe, at least in the short term, that this is the best way considering the risk, political correctness and social politeness, but at what cost? In the long term, is the cost greater? Doesn’t this render our problem-solving capabilities as impotent? Isn’t our continuous improvement quest toward perfection halted without seeing the truth?

In his book “Breakfast of Champions”, Kurt Vonnegut, stated: “New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.”

About the author:
Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently a senior operations consultant for Gemba Consulting North America LLC. 

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Toyota Material Handling

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently a ...