“If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.”
— Virginia Woolf
I remember the first time I saw the Chartres Cathedral. I was traveling from Paris by car. As we topped a hill, this majestic church climbed out of rolling wheat fields in the French countryside.
When Chartres Cathedral was built in the 13th Century, a medieval maze known as a labyrinth was set into the floor of the church. Since most people could never make it to Jerusalem, the heart of Christiandom, they would go instead to churches in Canterbury, Santiago de Compostella, and Chartres. Once there, the faithful would end their pilgrimage by walking the 40-foot-wide labyrinth to the center. Then they would slowly retrace their steps to regain the “outside world.”
The path of the labyrinth symbolizes the journey of human life leading to ultimate victory over Evil through Jesus Christ. The journey to truth.
In the world of leadership and public relations, the concept of truth can be elusive. It's a realm where perception, action, and ethics intersect, creating situations that can challenge our understanding of what is true and authentic.
Following are three intriguing scenarios that highlight the complexities of truth in these domains:
Scenario 1: Contradictory Statements and Actions
A highly decorated PR professional, known far and wide for his acumen and leadership, harbors a secret disdain for a fellow senior leader. He sees her as a person of questionable ethics, someone who blurs the lines between talent and nepotism, and wields influence with a gloved fist.
Behind closed doors, he doesn't hold back, critiquing her hiring practices, especially those favoring less-talented family members for coveted positions. He scoffs at her strong-arm tactics, the way she bends colleagues and clients to her will, and how she meticulously crafts a mirage of success for the sake of industry recognition and coveted awards.
Yet, here's where the story takes a riveting turn. In a public forum, where reputations are built and shattered, this very executive does the unexpected. He nominates the leader he privately ridicules for a major industry award, lavishing praise upon her leadership and talent. It's a paradoxical move that leaves industry insiders and colleagues bewildered and wondering about his true motivations.
Is this truth?
This true story highlights the complex dynamics that often underlie the world of corporate public relations. It's a world where personal opinions and public image can be at odds, where the line between authenticity and strategic maneuvering blurs, and where individuals must balance their inner thoughts with external expectations.
In the end, it serves as a compelling reminder that in the realm of leadership and reputation management, the truth can be as elusive as the illusions we create, and the choices we make can be as intriguing as the stories we tell.
Scenario 2: The Nepotism Dilemma
In another scenario, an agency CEO hires his wife to work in the firm, despite objections from the global HR leader and other senior executives. “What’s the problem? I can’t understand why people are objecting,” he says in defense of his action. “She’s talented and any agency would be proud to have her.” Never mind the team’s apprehensions about the wife potentially sharing sensitive client information and internal politics with her husband. The decision sparks days of conflict and mounting anxiety. Eventually, a higher-ranking executive intervenes and demands the woman's termination, bringing an end to the conflict.
Is this truth?
Again, factually, these events are true—they occurred. However, truth here is mired in ethical considerations. The CEO's nepotism, resistance to objections, and the intervention from above reveal a lack of adherence to established rules and ethical standards of the organization. The agency and its parent company had a nepotism rule that was clearly disregarded. This scenario emphasizes the importance of upholding organizational values and the potential consequences of deviating from them.
Scenario 3: The Struggle for DEI Communication Leadership
In a world increasingly emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), communications officers find themselves at the forefront of driving these conversations within their organizations. Yet, sometimes, the truth is that these efforts fall short, revealing challenges and complexities that demand attention.
A global company with a well-established DEI initiative proudly promotes its commitment to fostering an inclusive workplace. They have a dedicated team of communications officers responsible for conveying the company's DEI message to both internal and external stakeholders. However, behind the scenes, there are significant hurdles to overcome, including resistance by teams throughout the organization.
Is this truth?
Factually, the company's DEI initiative exists, and the communications officers are actively working on conveying the message. However, the truth here is multifaceted:
Within the company, there is a lack of alignment between the leadership's commitment to DEI and the actual implementation of inclusive practices. Communications officers find themselves in a challenging position, trying to promote a message that isn't fully embraced or practiced at all levels.
While the company outwardly promotes DEI, some departments or individuals resist change and remain resistant to embracing diverse perspectives. This resistance can create tension and make it difficult for communications officers to drive the DEI conversation effectively.
This scenario highlights the nuanced truth that communications officers dedicated to DEI face in their roles. While they may be genuinely committed to driving change and fostering inclusion, they often grapple with organizational challenges that hinder their efforts. The truth here lies in recognizing these complexities, acknowledging the need for systemic change, and persisting in the pursuit of a more inclusive workplace.
Where Do We Go from Here?
In the winding paths of leadership and public relations, the search for truth isn't a straightforward journey. It's like navigating a maze filled with twists, turns, and unexpected challenges. But it's a journey that holds a profound moral calling.
As Virginia Woolf wisely said, "If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people." Our quest for truth begins within us. It requires the courage to confront our own biases, motivations, and actions honestly. Only then can we hope to shed light on the shadows of deception that often cloud the worlds of leadership and public relations.
As leaders and communicators, we shoulder the responsibility of not only shaping our own narratives but also those of the organizations we represent. It's a challenging task, but one that can be guided by unwavering principles of transparency, integrity, and authenticity. The labyrinth may be intricate, but we have the power to navigate it with purpose and conviction.
At the end of the day, the complexities of truth should inspire us rather than deter us. They should motivate us to become better versions of ourselves, to work towards a world where our actions align seamlessly with our words, where authenticity triumphs over manipulation, and where the pursuit of truth is a collective mission.
As you journey through the labyrinth of truth, may you not only find answers but also discover the wisdom to question, the courage to act, and the determination to lead with unwavering integrity. It’s through these intricate twists and turns that we have the opportunity to unearth the most profound truths about ourselves and the world we aim to shape.
Remember always that it's the relentless pursuit of truth that distinguishes remarkable leaders and communicators—those who can guide us through even the most complex of realities.