𝗖𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗼𝗿 𝗶𝘀 𝗩𝗮𝗹𝘂𝗮𝗯𝗹𝗲
Updated: Oct 8, 2022
Being open, and thus vulnerable, can be difficult and uncomfortable.
However, the benefits of candor, including improved efficiency, higher performance, and better decision-making, justify the effort.
While candor may be a personal aspiration, we also can improve as leaders and promote business growth. A couple examples.
At one small business, we were doing fine however the economy was struggling and a number of other companies were going through layoffs. We removed a few positions, some due to performance and some due to restructuring. Even though we would even hire new people as part of the restructure, people interpreted the changes as the company struggling. If we had talked about the restructuring earlier and emphasized the ensuing hiring, employees would not have been so nervous about some people leaving.
At the opposite end, at a SaaS company we were stiving to reach profitability before another fundraising round (we were close, but the influx of cash would dramatically increase expenses which would show a negative net income). I told the team our intention and asked for their patience if we delayed some expenses. I explained the reasons for the company and the long-term benefits. People responded by volunteering to delay new laptops and trainings, enough so that it had a significant impact. The company was profitable the month before the fundraise was signed.
Building strong relationships requires a foundation of integrity and integrity requires candor.
“𝘾𝙖𝙣𝙙𝙤𝙧 𝙞𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙠𝙚𝙮 𝙩𝙤 𝙘𝙤𝙡𝙡𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙧𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙚𝙛𝙛𝙚𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙚𝙡𝙮. 𝙇𝙖𝙘𝙠 𝙤𝙛 𝙘𝙖𝙣𝙙𝙤𝙧 𝙡𝙚𝙖𝙙𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙙𝙮𝙨𝙛𝙪𝙣𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙖𝙡 𝙚𝙣𝙫𝙞𝙧𝙤𝙣𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙨.” – Edwin Catmull
Beyond personal ambition, candor has business value. Let's review.
Benefits to Candor
More Efficient. Consistently following your values and promoting the truth is faster since you don’t have to remember what was said to whom.
To be clear, you often have to tailor your message to the audience (e.g. 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. Relying on candor concentrates the discussion on moving forward versus navigating the past.
Openly discussing your challenges and concerns allows others to build on your beliefs. At the same time, setting the expectation of candor encourages others to share their thinking and allows you to support and to push their career development.
Also, when people see you strive to be open in your dealings, then others are more compassionate when mistakes occur. They are also more trusting and loyal knowing that you are being vulnerable.
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 to learn.
Your desire for higher performance will foster similar behavior in others. Most people are initially hesitant to give contrarian opinions or critical feedback to founders. When you demonstrate that you are open to that feedback, then they will be more willing to offer valuable responses.
Improved Results. Since accountability drives results, candor allows you to responsibly own company outcomes and personal decisions. Stakeholders who know your vision and expectations can better judge on progress and offer recommendations on plans.
Committing to being data-driven means basing decisions and changes on what you learn. Candor is foundational in avoiding the temptation to follow instincts. When you show the desire to be accountable, then others are much more likely to follow the data and have a productive discussion.
Applying Candor the Right Way
Unfortunately, candor can be weaponized when people use honesty to be hurtful. The distinction is offering honest feedback for productive purposes versus for personal reasons.
At two different companies, people complained to me about an employee’s hygiene. The first time, I was really nervous to bring up the issue and asked the manager to handle it. After the concern was mentioned, that employee avoided me and eventually left. There could have been a better outcome.
In the second company, I was determined to address the employee’s hygiene issue directly. I rehearsed my words carefully, focusing on being brief and clear. I spoke in terms of productivity e.g. if employees and clients would be less willing to work with them.
When we met, I acknowledged the conversation may be tough, focused on the problem (it would be insulting to offer obvious solutions), and thanked them for listening. While awkward in the moment, we would still talk and they became a great contributor over time.
In talking candidly about a challenge to solve together, we made progress.
As a founder, when people see you striving to be open, they are more trusting, motivated, and loyal as well as compassionate when mistakes occur.
We can all relate.
Photo by Anh Tuan To who can be found here: https://bit.ly/3bx7kls