In the 1992 legal drama film “A Few Good Men,” Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson) barks an iconic and scathing reproach to Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and to the world at large, “You can’t handle the truth!”
While this made for an epic movie moment, Colonel Jessep got it wrong when it comes to team members in small-scale software businesses — they can, indeed, handle the truth. Actually, they require it. Highly intelligent and resourceful knowledge workers don’t need a ton from their leaders; but there is a short list of critically important must-haves, particularly in times of crisis. Specifically, they need to know these few things about company leaders:
Like many people, I’ve spent a lot of time in recent weeks trying to get a handle on things by understanding what others are seeing and hearing. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many company leaders about what they are experiencing and the nature of communications within their own teams. Particularly interesting to me is how they are choosing to address the harsh and uncertain reality of today’s business climate.
What I observed is that many leaders whom I deeply respect are being quite transparent regarding the challenges their companies face, and about the various options for navigating those challenges. A number of those same leaders expressed pleasant surprise at having received positive feedback following particularly hard-hitting messages to their teams. Intrigued, I researched further and was able to review and compare in varying levels of detail how a number of leaders have been communicating with their teams of late. What emerged from that informal study was a wide range of styles, but also a highly consistent set of practices employed by experienced and effective leaders. These include:
In sum, small-scale SaaS company teams want a few core behaviors from their leaders; and those don’t include babysitting or happy talk. Quite simply, they want the substantive and relevant truth. But neither do teams desire information overload. They don’t need every little shred of information that impacts the company either positively or negatively on a minute-by-minute basis. They should not be subjected to the turbulence and air-sickness which comes from experiencing first-hand every rise and fall in altitude as the company flies along. That’s a different Tom Cruise movie altogether.