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Organisational culture

Addicted to Truth

27 March 2024

I’ve been fortunate to be part of a really interesting Senior Leadership course in Cardiff University that involved completing a behavioural profiling tool to help me ‘map my brain’. I love doing these sorts of things but I know that they can divide opinion. I find them really useful ways to help you think deeply about yourself – what makes you tick and what drives you up the wall. The results might confirm what you suspect, might uncover new things that you hadn’t considered but can see as possibilities, alongside those surprising ‘uncovered’ things which you don’t really recognise in yourself at all. The process of thinking deeply about the extent to which you do, or do not, agree with what is presented before you is always worthwhile, I think.

So I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what matters to me, thanks to such tools and some Executive coaching that I’ve been lucky to have, and its very hard for me to reach any other conclusion other than that I have a desperate, insatiable need for THE TRUTH.

As I wrote that, Jack Nicholson popped into my head, suited in full marine smarts, shouting  “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” which is probably fair on some level, but as I get older, whether I can personally take it or not, I find myself desperately craving it – hunting it down, provoking it and basking in its glory when it engulfs me.

There are a variety of reasons why I might feel this desperate need, many personal, and my Executive Coach is helping me to see how my life experiences have a lot of influence in how my working relationships play out.  But, regardless of where this need has originated from, the truth is that my truth dependency is there, resolutely, and it both fuels me and frustrates me in equal measure.

In the last session we had on our leadership programme, the course leader Mark Crabtree shared that the ‘mea culpa’ approach was a powerful way to create cultures of truth, build trust and rapport with teams that are suspicious of you personally, to help you to achieve the change that you are seeking to make.

Mea culpa, which means “through my fault” in Latin, comes from a prayer of confession in the Catholic Church. Said by itself, it’s an exclamation of apology or remorse that is used to mean “It was my fault” or “I apologize.” 

I first heard this term from my Dad, who, in the great spirit of ‘men only say sorry under extreme duress’ used to say it when something had gone wrong whilst he was at the helm.  Why, a cheeky ‘mea culpa’ with added grin, drawing directly from school boy latin lessons, would cunningly admit responsibility at the same time as providing enough of a separative veil to not have to accept full accountability in the medium of English.

If it’s in latin, its more exotic and not real life.

It was enough though because the crucial element is there – acceptance.  Acceptance that things aren’t perfect, that the protagonist knows this, and that they were involved in that imperfection.  There’s also an assumed admission that acceptance will in some way, start to pave the way to correction somehow.

Leaders who aren’t afraid to go full mea culpa are such a great way to help to build a foundation of ‘psychological safety’ in organisations.  Genuine contrition and ownership of wrong doing is a hugely powerful thing.  I try to think whether I am willing to share my faults, frailties and failings with people – I really think I do, because I have this insatiable need for honesty, but I’d be lying if I said I was open about absolutely everything. Does that make me a fraud?

We had another session today with Mark where he reminded us of the Johari window, created in 1955 by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. It’s a classic “2 x 2” model, again a useful tool within which you can compare elements of your psyche to try to better understand the way you interact with others, where the top left represents the part of yourself which you know, and others know.  The bottom left represents the part that you know, but that others don’t, so there’s an element of hiding aspects of yourself here.  The top right is the part of you that others can see, quite clearly, but that you can’t see yourself, and the bottom right of the quadrant is that most elusive of areas – the unencountered part of yourself that you don’t know and that no one else recognizes either.


‘Leave well alone’ you might think, but the point is that not exploring this aspect of yourself means that you are sub-optimally experiencing the world as you won’t have a full grasp of how you move through it.

So I like to think that the size of my Johari arena (shown in yellow) is quite sizeable (arf) because I do ‘self-disclose’, hold my hands up when I have made a mistake, and I do ask people what they think about me, even if I’m not sure I like the results.  The slightly darker yellow represents the area of shared discovery as you work together with your teams to unlock new elements about how you tick.  But there are things that I have to yet discover and things that others have yet to discover about me and that’s normal and good I think. No-one wants a completely yellow Johari window surely? Urgh how tedious!

As ever, the important thing is not to assume that you have everything sorted, you have to keep reflecting, you have to keep thinking, you have to keep learning and trying to be better.