DR. CUMMINGS: To tell the truth

June 22, 2014 

“Well, to tell the truth ... .” Why do we say this? Do we mean that -- just this once -- we’re going to break down and be truthful? Or is this phrase a cover-up and a spin because we really are going to lie? How many times have you heard this phrase, and how many times have you used it yourself?

Every month I serve as one of the nine judges on the Georgia State Bar’s Fitness Board. Georgia’s five law schools graduate more than 2,000 potential lawyers each year, but all of them must be “certified” by our fitness board before they can hang out their shingles. If we have a doubt about a candidate’s “fitness,” we demand a private interview. We ask for truthful explanations of DUIs and felonies and cheating on exams, etc. I can’t count how many times I hear: “Well, sir, to tell the truth ... .”

If I’m asked to be a witness in a trial, they make me swear on a Bible that I will “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” Really? I have to take an oath and be subject to perjury if I misspeak? Obviously, this means I’m more inclined to lie. Am I? Is this the truth that all of us have this deep aversion to transparency and honesty? Is this why we keep repeating: “Well, to tell the truth ...”?

The TV show “To Tell the Truth” aired a total of 25 seasons starting in 1956. The contestants had to pick which of three celebrities was telling the truth and which two were lying. Most of the time, the “liars” sounded a whole lot more truthful. So, not only do we all have a tendency to lie, but many of us can do it much better than telling the truth. But who cares?

Everybody lies: managers, pastors, parents and especially politicians who fear the truth will surface some fact that will be embarrassing or even legally harmful.

If you’ve watched any TV during the past year, you know somebody is lying about the IRS and Benghazi and the swap of Bowe Bergdahl for five terrorists. Truth comes out of Washington in tiny, bite-size snippets. But what does it matter?

Does it matter to you? Does it matter to the organization where you spend the majority of your day? Is “transparency” one of its core values? Do they communicate all the good stuff and all the bad stuff -- regardless? Have they eliminated cliques that stand around the break room like teenagers and whisper secrets?

Does your leadership group publish everything and keep everybody informed of what’s going on?

In my 28 years of leadership consulting, this has been the most important issue for nonprofits and for-profits, for doctor groups and law firms, for universities and corporations, for large companies and small companies. Where there is no transparency, there is no trust, and where there is no trust there is dysfunction. Where dysfunction reigns, you do not want to be there.

I have seen ulcers created, friendships ruined, profits dissipated and bankruptcy carry the company away. It goes quickly once it starts -- like a virus in your computer -- and before anyone can stop it, all is lost.

So fill your organization with mature, competent adults. They’re the only ones who can “handle the truth.” Insecure, childish people will invent all sorts of creative excuses.

The Gospel of St. John says it all: “The truth shall make you free.” Free from more pain and grief and sorrow than you ever want to bear.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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