Honouring the Truth-teller – part two

March 10, 2003

This is the second of a three-part series by Dr. Roger W. Sapp.

Values Produce Predictable Behaviour
Prior to 1993, I was an active duty Army Chaplain. During that season in my life, I taught leadership skills to officers and non-commissioned officers in leadership retreats as a part of my ministry. I often used management games to teach these leaders about leadership. In one management game called “Powerplay”, a scenario is created where these leaders were arbitrarily divided into groups by virtue of winning in a trading scenario. The winning group is then given authority over the other groups. The winning group is given the right to make the rules for future trading and to dictate these rules to the other groups. Without exception, the group that has the authority always begins to make rules to keep its authority and to benefit it as a group in trading. Given enough time the winning group will begin to clearly abuse the other groups. This group will justify its behavior on the basis of winning the earlier portion of the game and by virtue of having the authority.

Reactions of Different Abused Groups
In those retreats where non-commissioned officers (sergeants) were involved, the sergeants would allow themselves to be abused. Their overriding value was loyalty to the authority no matter what transpired or how unfairly they were treated. They were unhappy and grumbled among themselves during the abuse but did not do anything productive to deal with it. They offered no feedback, no confrontation, and no truth from their perspective to the abusive group of sergeants. This was characteristic of nearly all the sergeants that I played this game with. This revealed that their values were highly loyal but truthfulness was weak as a value. (Of course, there were a few exceptional sergeants that would have been better officers by nature.)

The reactions of the officers in the officer leadership retreats were entirely different. As the group of officers who abused them became more abusive, the officers became increasingly active and alert to their responsibility to deal with the unfair situation. They offered feedback that was largely ignored. They devised strikes; in other words, they withdrew and would not cooperate with the abusive authority. They often tried to continue to confront the abusive group. They tried to negotiate a more just situation. In nearly all cases, the group in authority would become increasingly authoritarian and created more rules strictly for their own benefit and to keep the rebels in line. The abusive group would often say that the other officer groups were not playing fair when they rebelled, withdrew or failed to cooperate. In other words, the group with the authority became blind to their abuse and blamed the abused groups for withdrawing and not wanting to play the game anymore.

Not Valuing Truth Results in Blindness
Blindness is characteristic of organizations and leaders that do not value truthfulness in their relationships. This is because truth telling has been stifled in a loyalty-based organizations or individuals. Because there is no honest feedback, they will often be blind to their abusive behavior and honestly wonder why others are reacting. There will be no one to tell them that it is wrong to shift the blame for difficulties in the relationships to the victims of their abusive behavior. The value of truth is what keeps a local church or any organization from becoming like a cult. Honoring the truth-teller is a characteristic of godly relationships. Dishonoring the truth-teller is a characteristic of cults. Cultic behavior, which always includes blindness, will result from an overemphasis of loyalty above the truth. Leaders must understand that their own desire for loyalty may overcome truthfulness in their subordinates. They must actively cultivate truthfulness along with loyalty in their subordinates.

Different Values and Expectations
This game also revealed that different kinds of people have different values and expectations. Commissioned Officers are taught in the military that proper submission means that they will speak to the superior officer with courage and candor (truthfulness) about organizational problems. Officers who will not confront their commander when necessary are poor excuses for leaders. Commanders who will not hear the honest, truthful input of their subordinates without penalty are poor commanders. The officer type of leader expects to be treated well by other leaders. He expects his input to be valued and genuinely considered. When the behavior of an organization and its primary leaders do not match the officer type leader’s values, he will withdraw or try negotiation. If the negotiation fails, he will leave the organization and move on, similar to an officer resigning his commission. The officer type of leader will want to fix the organization’s larger problems and will not ordinarily be silent about them.

If the organizational values lean too far to loyalty and not enough on truthfulness, this type of leader will often be seen as not being a team player and be penalized by being privately labeled as such. As a result the organization may lose this valuable leader as he discovers the truth of how the organization actually sees him.The sergeant type of leader will remain loyal to a fault. He will adjust to the problems and not necessary ever speak truthfully to the organization. There is nothing wrong with this type of person; in fact, they are greatly needed in all organizations. However, in unhealthy organizations, the sergeant type of leader is valued above the officer type of leader. The officer type of person can help an organization to deal with its problems and therefore grow. If an organization creates an atmosphere for genuine honesty and truthfulness, it will attract many of the officer types of persons and will be able to keep them. It will not lose its sergeant types either. In fact, the sergeant type of leader will be much happier since problems will be dealt with. Loyal and truthful leaders will ensure that the Church will be prepared to meet the One who declared Himself to be the way, the truth, and the life.

Next week: Honouring the Truth-teller – part three.

Till then,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,


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