Monday, May 2, 2011

The Missing Truth of the Bryde Whale

As the summer fair season approaches, I was reminded of a childhood experience that didn't turn out how I imagined it would at a midwestern state fair where I grew up.

The sign advertised "See the REAL Bryde forty foot long whale".  I couldn't resist.  I followed the line past the ticket booth as the other paying guests and I waited our turn.  Slowly, we approached the exhibit which turned out to be a semi-truck trailer.  My suspicions were starting to rise but still, hope prevailed.

As we made our way into the trailer, our eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light.

There, in a long tanks stretching from one end of the trailer to the other, was a very dead Bryde whale floating in some preservative solution.

True, it was a "real" whale. And no, they had not said see the real, "live" whale.  I had presumed that because, at that point, my only interest was in seeing a live whale and my perspective assumed that that's what everyone else would want to see.  Therefore, that's what would be shown I thought.

That was not the truth, not the whole truth anyway.

As leaders and managers, we are often confronted with dealing with portions of the whole truth.  Sometimes, because we simply can not reveal the full story to others.  Sometimes, sadly, because there is power in withholding the critical elements of the full picture and we withhold for advantage.

The latter will generally backfire colossally in time as the missing truth is discovered and trust evaporates.

The former, the act of disclosing part of the picture when some aspects can not then be spoken, can be accepted if the groundwork has already been laid.  For example, when a staff member is let go due to disciplinary action, it generally is not appropriate to reveal the exact nature of the action.  There were differences and they are gone and it's time to move on. 

Other staff are much more likely to accept this if the track record is already in place that you have demonstrated again and again that the portion of the truth revealed is relevant, accurate and in general alignment with the fully details later revealed.

The story of the missing truth of the Bryde Whale reminded me of the importance of telling a portion of the truth that is an accurate reflection of the whole truth rather than a twisted version true only by it's omission.

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