Leadership Perspectives

Speaking your truth with courage and compassion

Most of us learned at an early ageSpeak the truth... not to let everything that pops into our heads come out of our mouths.  Thinking before one speaks is generally a good idea.  It can keep us from saying things that we will later regret.

But can self-censorship go too far?  Absolutely.

Do you find that you often don’t speak up because you believe that:

  • No one would listen anyway
  • Dealing with the opposition is just too much trouble
  • People might not like you if they knew what you really thought
  • It’s better to be silent and keep the peace?

If you answered yes to any of these, then it’s likely that you aren’t speaking up enough.  You aren’t telling the truth.

Being a leader and being silent are diametrically opposed.  It’s easy to let things run on status quo.  But being silent doesn’t move your organization forward and it won’t make you successful.

This post is Part Four of a five part series on what you can do to make 2014 your best year ever.  In part one, I introduced four things that you can do differently this year.  In part two, I talked about setting a clear intention.  In part three, I suggested that leaders ask for help.

In this post, I want to implore you to tell the truth … to be courageously authentic.  According to Bob Anderson of The Leadership Circle, courageous authenticity is a “leader’s willingness to take tough stands, bring up ‘un-discussables,’ and openly deal with difficult relationship problems.”

Courageous authenticity allows us to surface and deal with our most vexing organizational issues in ways that address those issues and allows us to go to the heart of the matter so that we can find solutions.  Operating with courageous authenticity doesn’t mean we can’t still be “nice,” if nice means reasonable, cooperative, and compassionate.  It simply means that we won’t sacrifice the truth by avoiding topics that are potentially difficult.  Instead, we will discuss them and allow space for others to come forward with courageous authenticity as well.

To speak your truth productively and effectively:

  • Surface issues of importance to the organization and lead others in real discussion.
  • Avoid saying only to yourself what needs to be said aloud.
  • Talk about the things that really matter in the organization.
  • Speak up in the moment and avoid being a part of the “meeting after the meeting” where people tend to gather to say what they would not say in the meeting.
  • Speak with courage and compassion.  Be mindful and know what you want to accomplish with your words.  If you want to affect change, speak of the change you want to see.  Avoid venting, dwelling on the past, or assigning blame.
  • Focus on your behavior and your contribution to the discussion.  Have empathy for those who are initially less able to speak up – Be a role model.
  • Reward, rather than punish, others for speaking courageously.  Thank others for being honest and for talking about what matters (even if what matters makes you, personally, uncomfortable).

If true leadership is about having a purpose, communicating a vision, driving towards a goal, and being decisive, isn’t speaking your truth with courage and compassion a fundamental necessity?

Photo credit: Duncan Hill


  1. Thanks for such timely, thought-provoking ideas. I have been thinking a lot lately about “truth” AND “compassion” and how challenging (and important) it can be to do both. Last week, I did have the courage to say something in a meeting that no one else was willing to say. (The internal dialogue around whether or not to speak up would have made a funny cartoon.) It led to a lively discussion, and in the end I am not sure how much I helped or hurt myself (probably both). I struggle with how to raise the complexity of certain issues in a way that doesn’t sound elitist, confrontational, or preachy. It equally raises the question about how such leadership can be viewed as both an asset and a threat.

    • Indeed, even when we raise issues constructively – without ego, without blame, and with compassion for others – sometimes others will feel directly or indirectly threatened. But the alternative is time spent NOT addressing things that matter.
      Perhaps one approach to avoid sounding preachy or confrontational is to raise the issue and prompt others to explore it. Ask questions and role model being open to learning?
      Good luck!

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