How becoming a leader suddenly makes you hilarious, attractive and super smart

In his autobiography, General Norman Schwarzkopf tells about one of his failings, namely that he can’t tell a joke.

He just isn’t funny.  His timing is off, he forgets the punchline, nobody ever laughs.  That is, they didn’t laugh until he got a general’s star.  Then, suddenly, he became hilarious!  Underlings died laughing at anything he said that was meant to be remotely funny.

This is a truism about leadership.  From now on, you’re going to be the last to get the unvarnished truth.  Especially unvarnished truth about WHAT’S GOING WRONG!

It isn’t that your underlings lie to you exactly.  It’s just that you control their pay, their promotion opportunities, and their lives in general, and they naturally want your approval.  They don’t want be the one to tell you whatever THAT thing is.

YOU don’t feel any different.  But they feel a big difference.  So how do you get to the truth?  Especially the truth about what’s wrong and what could be better?

Manage by walking around

Spend part of your day walking around the business.  Chat people up at every level of the organization.  Ask them their opinions.  Wander around a bit.  Take 30 minutes a day to talk to people you don’t normally interact with, to drive by a customer’s business, to check out your competitor(s), and to try to find out the truth.

I once spoke with a guy who told me that he didn’t need to see competitor’s numbers.  He could tell the state of the business just by driving by their business.  Maintenance on the building, clutter in the yard, and the general look of things told him all he needed to know.  But he had to drive by himself to see it.

Reward insultants

CONsultants are easy to find.  And lots of them will borrow your watch to tell you the time with.  Often they need the cash, so they’ll tell you what you want to hear.

But INsultants are something else entirely.  These are people who disagree, and who aren’t afraid to speak up.  You need these people in your life.  So, when someone expresses a view that you find irritating (especially if it’s about you and your leadership style) thank them and reward them for speaking up.  They are helping you get better.

Explode the landmines early

When you introduce a topic that is controversial or that people on the team may disagree with, expode the landmines yourself.

You do this by saying something like this:

“Before we talk about painting the front door pink, I wonder if some of you are  thinking this might be too garish, or send the wrong message to the customer, or that painting is an initiative we don’t need to focus on right now?”

By doing that, you give them permission to tell the truth.

So when your team thinks you’re hilarious or super insightful or unerringly right, take it with a large grain of salt, and try to get the truth in other, sneaky ways!

Trevor head shot in office 1

Trevor Throness is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of People Skills.”  He is also co-founder and senior instructor at

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