I recently asked a friend of mine if I could talk about him in this week’s blog. He said “yes” as long as I didn’t use his real name. I will tell you a story, but I have changed my friend Phil’s name to Dave to protect the protagonist’s identity. You’re welcome, Phil. So I have a friend, who I will call Dave for this story. Dave and his wife, who I will call Julia, have been married for over ten years for this story.

To celebrate his wedding anniversary, every single year, Dave sits down to a meal he hates. His wife’s homemade beef wellington. He is not allergic to any of the ingredients in it. He doesn’t suffer from a pesky intolerance, and Julia, I can tell you from experience, is an excellent cook. It’s just that Dave doesn’t really like beef wellington. So why does his wife make it for him every anniversary?.. Because he lied to her.

In this blog, we will be talking about the truth, the whole truth, and everything but the truth, so help me, God. We will be talking about standing up for what you believe in, standing up for what is right and what happens if you don’t.

The truth is my name is Andrew Sillitoe, this is The Andrew Sillitoe Blog, and I am writing this blog wearing a giraffe onesie. I’ll leave it to you to determine which statements are true. Answers on a postcard, please.

If I had never told a lie, I would be lying. My lies, like most people, have ranged from the tiniest, most polite mistruths “yes, I think your eight year old’s tantrum went unnoticed during the Christmas concert” to huge ones, which often include the words “I have no idea what you’re talking about…”

As a business leader, the buck stops with us. We are there to lead by example, and I always ask my colleagues to be honest with themselves and me. And so, I am going to make a conscious effort to do better. And it’s easy… Ok that was a lie. Changing the habits of a is never easy. But it is worth it.

Speaking your truth is one of the most important things you can ever do. Of course, it is not easy, but nothing worth doing was ever easy. Ask the people who built Rome or the composers of great symphonies or those people who walk across hot coals.

Things that are difficult to do have a great value.

Building something great takes a long time. It is easy to feel unsatisfied as a business leader. We are constantly thinking about the future, those increasing targets, and those ever-moving goalposts. It is our job to think ahead. But it is also our job to be proud of what we’ve achieved. And how can we do that if we don’t know what we stand for? What do we stand for if we don’t speak our truth?

Speaking your truth has always been important. But now it feels like we’re living in history. We are still in a global pandemic. We see more distance between rich and poor. We see the war that we thought had been only a terrible part of the past. With the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, we are reminded of the importance of truth. Maybe it shouldn’t have taken this to make me remember what I stand for. But I think it has, and I am unwilling to ignore it now.

Why do we need a disaster to realise that we have power?

Why should we need war to remember how much we value peace?

Why do we need the ice caps to keep melting in order to talk about climate change?

Whilst we’re talking about ice, why did we need the Titanic to sink to realise that having enough lifeboats on a massive ship in the middle of the ocean is no bad thing?

The invasion of Ukraine has affected us all to varying degrees. It has made us more alert, more concerned and certainly more vulnerable. Something that we had thought would stay in our history is now a part of our present, and unless something happens quickly, is part of our future.

What do you think you’d do if you were a business leader in Russia?

Would you have the strength and the bravery to stand up for your beliefs, or would you feel unable to speak out? We are hearing incredible stories of courage. Of unarmed civilians standing in the way of approaching tanks. Of journalists protesting on live TV and risking prison.

We are seeing extraordinary acts of courage. What do you think you’d be able to do to stand up for what you believe in? What do you think you’d regret?.. Could you surprise yourself and be more robust than you ever thought possible? Have you got any evidence from your past to back this up? Cometh the hour… what will you bring to the table?

We all hope that we will stand by our beliefs, but what about standing up for the rights of others? The heroism we have seen from Russian citizens standing up as allies for the Ukrainian people reminds us of our power as individuals. People are standing up and risking their safety, their family’s safety, to support people they have never met.

If you what to see what courage looks like, watch the news this evening. You will see people looking at disaster and in the face and smiling.
I don’t know why humans, on the whole, seem to need a disaster to become heroes.

Maybe it is because heroes can’t exist without something to save or fight for. But I’d argue that we need to start standing up for each other and the planet more regularly. We can’t change everything, but we can change something.

And I am going to change out of the giraffe onesie…

In all seriousness, though, I have stayed quiet in rooms where I have disagreed with what is being said. Sometimes, of course, out of politeness. I don’t want to make a fuss or make anyone feel bad. It doesn’t seem that important. Perhaps I am wrong anyway. There are plenty of reasons not to speak up. I know there are because I have used them to excuse my silence to ease my guilt.

Sometimes, it is because I am embarrassed. When a friend made a joke I thought was inappropriate, I didn’t kick up a fuss. Now I do. I can no longer stand by as friends, colleagues, teammates, or strangers make unpleasant and hateful remarks. Being alive at the moment means we are being asked, louder than ever, what do you stand for?

I wonder if any of you listening have stayed quiet recently when you should have spoken up? I’m not talking about something trivial, “Is everyone happy if we order sandwiches for lunch and carry on the meeting?” Although you should demand your lunch break and something less depressing than a beige buffet.

But what about if someone is mistreated? What if your values are being challenged? What if you witness something that you believe is wrong? We have to stop waiting for the breaking point and speak our truth more often. Practice makes perfect, right? Call it to practice if you want to. Or tell the truth because lies are harder to remember. Whatever your reason for getting into this truth-telling, I am telling you, truthfully, it will be one of the best changes you can make.

Remember my friend Dave from the start of the blog? The man who eats a meal his wife has painstakingly taken the time to make him, but he doesn’t enjoy it? Julia, Dave’s wife, made it for him on their first official date. She asked Dave if he liked the meal she had made for him and Dave, unwilling to hurt her feelings, said he loved it, that it was his favourite.

Julia makes it for him every single year.

Should Dave have told Julia that he didn’t like it? Straight away on their first date? No. That would have hurt her feelings. Five years in? No. The idea that he had deceived her for so long is even harder to swallow for Dave than the meal he despises. Little lies can cost you just as much as big ones. We need to get into the habit of being honest with ourselves, our colleagues and our loved ones.

As business leaders, and I’ve set this before, we need to set the example. We are responsible for showing others what sort of business we are in charge of. It is about standing up for your values and your beliefs daily. It is about being honest. It is about saying that you appreciate the effort, and it looks delicious, but you don’t really like beef wellington.

I’m Andrew Sillitoe. And I am delighted you’ve joined me. Truly. Scout’s honour.