Candor in Action
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, has forever promoted the benefits of candor in business.
He calls it the “biggest little dirty secret in business.”
As I continue to work with various business leaders, my question remains, “If candor is so beneficial and so important in business, why do so few actually practice candor and of those who practice it, why are so few effective?”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines candor as, “The quality of being open, sincere, and honest.”
Understanding this definition it would be difficult to argue the art of candor should not be celebrated.
The difficulty comes when the openness and honesty are difficult to take. Candor is often celebrated when the news is good, but rebuked when the news is bad. It is only with candid and constructive criticism, however, that we can continue to take our business to the next level, or as Jim Collins says, “From Good to Great.”
The Candor of Film
I began to understand the benefits of candor while playing football in both high school and university.
Each Monday morning our team would venture into the film room to “break down” the game from the previous weekend. Those film sessions were sometimes cause for celebration, but also much constructive criticism. It wasn’t unusual for a coach to say, “We won the game, but we still have much room for improvement.” It was later in the week during practice, where we would focus on specific areas to improve. The feedback during practice would be specific and constructive. It was with this candid feedback that we were able to succeed.
It was because of these film sessions I was better equipped to handle candor and constructive criticism.
It is unfortunate that in our society we are continually seeking ways to shelter our youth from failure and constructive criticism. I understand this sentiment. I hope my children never fail at anything.
Of course that couldn’t be any more unrealistic. In the famous Nike commercial Michael Jordan stated “I have failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” Is it not more important to teach our children the value of failure, candor and constructive criticism to prepare them for future success?
Is it not also our job as business leaders to treat our staff members and colleagues with the same candor?
The Application of Candor
Where candor often falls short in business organizations is in the application.
There are many business leaders who make the statement, “We are doing well, but we need to get even better.” Sadly few that are able to convert the statement into a teaching moment. The feedback must be candid, but it also must be clear, concise and very specific.
In a restaurant, for example, it is not enough to state to an employee, “You need to be a better server.”
The most likely reason that he is not a good server is he does not understand how to master the skills required to be a great server. It would be better to say, “To be a better server, focus on smiling, paying attention to the details of each guest’s order and organize yourself to be able to multi-task to effectively serve your section.” It would be better still to coach this server to master the skills.
There is little doubt that candor is “The biggest little dirty secret in business,” as Jack Welch mused.
Few debate the overall value of candor, but many are unable or unwilling to act with candor because, firstly, it is difficult, but secondly, because to lead effectively with candor, the leader must invest time into his or her people, teaching and training them into, “the best version of themselves,” to coin a phrase popularized by Matthew Kelly.
Finally, maybe the most difficult aspect of promoting candor in the workplace is accepting candor from your employees. If you as the leader are expecting candor from your employees, you better be willing to accept respectful candor from your employees. Welcome feedback about your own performance and the businesses performance as a whole. It is often those on the front line of businesses that come up with the best ideas.
Are you ready to listen to hear those ideas adopt a candid business environment to take your business from “Good to Great?”
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