[June 13, 2021] Don’t embellish your story.1 Only state precisely what has happened and do so without embellishment or adding your opinion. Just the Facts, Ma’am, is attributed to the 1950s TV series Dragnet where Sergeant Joe Friday is the main stoic character. The show was one of the highest-rated series of the decade. I watched it many times as a young teenager.
To provide just the facts is difficult. More importantly, for someone in authority, they often need more than the facts. Often, leaders need to know what others are thinking, even if they don’t align with the facts. Leaders also need to understand the emotional state of others involved.
Leadership is complex because it involves more than the facts. That is why I have been surprised when leaders take recommendations from advisors who provide detailed information. Leaders do more. They do much more than consider just the facts. That is why “expert” advice should never be considered alone without context.
When we work with people, a range of emotions comes into play, most notably fear. Fear will cause one to think in ways that can make you forget to see things as they did not occur. Fear raises our blood pressure, puts us into a fight or flight mode, and narrowly focuses our attention. Police officers are trained to ask questions that help get around the shock of fear when pursuing leads to a suspect.
The character Sergeant Friday, a no-nonsense man, was known for his realistic portrayal of the details of police work. Jack Webb starred in the production that made him a household name across the nation. Once while I was teaching at Penn State University, one of my female student’s name was Jo Friday (her dad wanted a boy).
“The story you are about to hear is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” – the opening line of the Dragnet TV show2
It turns out that Joe Friday never did say the exact phrase, Just the facts, ma’am, but that doesn’t matter to us here.3 The character, it seemed in every episode, told a female witness or victim to provide the facts, please. No matter, the phrase swept the nation and is now a part of our lexicon. Recently out of favor, you can still run across it from those older, like me.
To be a leader, one must be aware that you can have all the facts in the world but require more when making decisions of importance.
- The actual phrase credited to Sergeant Joe Friday was, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” Somehow it got truncated to “Just the facts, ma’am.”