Building strong relationships requires a foundation of integrity. The act of candor is the expression of integrity.
While you may aspire to be more open for personal reasons, there is business value too.
Through candor, we can improve as leaders and promote business growth.
Here are a couple of examples:
At one small business, we were doing fine; however, the economy was struggling, and several other companies were going through layoffs. We removed a few positions, some due to performance and some due to restructuring.
Even though we would hire new people as part of the restructuring, eventually, people interpreted the changes as our company struggling. If we had discussed the restructuring earlier and emphasized the ensuing hiring, employees would not have been so nervous about some people leaving.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, at a SaaS company, we were striving to reach profitability before another fundraising round—and we were close, but the influx of cash would dramatically increase expenses, showing a negative net income.
I told the team our intention and asked for their patience if we delayed approving some costs. I explained why we were taking this approach and the long-term benefits. People responded by volunteering to wait for new laptops and paid training. Those contributions had a significant impact. The company was profitable just before the fundraise was signed.
Let me be clear and open about the benefits here:
Efficiency. Consistently promoting the truth is a faster way to success.
To be clear, you often have to tailor your message to your audience—you may present one version of the truth to your board and a higher-level view to the team. However, being grounded in the same set of facts means that you can focus on context versus substance.
Peak Performance. Most effective leaders want to develop as quickly as possible. Time gets wasted when you have to calculate how to explain information or if you expend energy remembering what you told to whom. Being candid allows decisions to move forward faster.
“Candor is the key to collaborating effectively.
Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.”
– Edwin Catmull
Openly discussing your challenges and concerns allows others to build on your vision. At the same time, setting the expectation of candor encourages others to share their thinking and develop their leadership skills.
Pro Tip: When people see you strive to be open, they are more compassionate when mistakes occur. They are also more trusting and loyal since they know that you are vulnerable and truthful.
Better Feedback. Performing your best requires timely and valid input. People can sense sincerity and are more eager to respond knowing you’re trying to be candid and learn.
Your desire for higher performance will foster similar behavior in others. Most people hesitate to give contrarian opinions or critical feedback to founders. When you demonstrate being open to that feedback, they will likely be more willing to offer valuable responses.
Improved Results. Since accountability drives results, candor allows you to own company outcomes and personal decisions responsibly. Stakeholders who know your vision and expectations can better judge your progress and offer recommendations on your plans.
When you show the desire to be accountable, others will be much more likely to hold themselves responsible and have productive discussions with you since they know you are genuine about learning.
Unfortunately, candor can also be weaponized. People may use honesty to be hurtful under the auspices of trying to be helpful. The distinction is offering constructive feedback for productive purposes versus providing feedback for personal reasons.
At two companies where I worked, people complained about an employee’s hygiene. In the first company, I was nervous about bringing up the issue, so I asked the manager to tactfully handle it. While the concern was addressed, those employees would never willingly talk with me again after the manager made it clear that I had raised the issue.
When it happened again at a second company, I was determined to address the hygiene issue directly. I rehearsed my words carefully, focusing on being brief and clear. I spoke about how it affected relationships with employees and clients.
When we met, I acknowledged that the conversation might be tough, addressed the problem immediately, answered questions, and thanked them for listening. While certainly awkward, they would eventually talk with me again about other work matters and the relationship stayed intact.
Key Takeaway: Being more open can be tough. However, the benefits of candor, including improved efficiency, performance, and decision-making, justify the investment.
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