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Can We Be Perfectly Honest?

“The loss of candor is grievous, and in my opinion it may yet prove to be mortal, because if we cannot discuss our problems in plain speech that describes reality, it is unlikely that we will be able to solve them.”  ~Alexander Haig

One of the more difficult responsibilities of a leader is developing a proper level of candor with his or her employees. The ability to be candid with coworkers leads to a more in-touch organization and a more open conference room, but establishing the beginnings of a candid workplace can be a process.

Good Leaders Set the Tone

The first step for any organizational leader is to personally establish a tone of candidness that will begin to trickle down to everyone within the organization. If a leader commits to honesty and transparency with employees, it allows everyone to believe they are part of a culture of honesty and transparency that they should strive to emulate. As such, responsibility falls on leaders to not only be candid, but also to allow people to be candid with them in return…without fear of backlash. In all situations, candor lives and dies with the tone set by the leader.

Good Leaders are Relationship Coaches

An issue in many organizations is that people are more than willing to be candid—but not with the person at whom it should be directed. What that means is situations can become triangular; one person is willing to discuss another person’s inadequacies with a third person, but not to the person who is the object of the complaints. The gripes can quickly become gossip and the outcome can be ruined relationships, as well as a major hit to morale and productivity. Leaders can coach team members on how to provide effective feedback to another person, but with a commitment to discouraging underground communication while embracing the role of teacher and role model.

Good Leaders Demonstrate Mission and Vision

A critical factor in candid discussion is realizing that working towards a shared goal is more important than being right. Disagreements invariably come up in group discussion, but as long as everyone is working for what is right rather than focusing on who is right, all parties have the freedom to be appropriately candid. When team members begin feeling defensive because egos are getting involved, there’s a tendency to hold back. It is vital that leaders keep everyone within the organization in touch with the stated mission and vision, enabling everyone to be completely candid and empowered to bring forth the best, most innovative ideas.

Candor Litmus Test

An important way to determine receptiveness of candor is examining how the person reacts to it. If a team member shuts down or walks away from a candid conversation, they are less likely to be candid in the future. This is a step backwards. If the team member responds to candor with an attitude that demonstrates they felt there was some benefit to it, the likelihood is they will potentially be available for more openness later on.  The leader’s goal is to help others see and embrace the value of candid conversations—with an understanding that different individuals won’t all simultaneously arrive at a comfortable place with candor. It takes work, consistency and positive reinforcement.

While candor cannot be forced, we at Milestone Leadership know when leaders worth following are persistent in living the values of openness, honesty and transparency, the impact on others in the workplace is truly meaningful.

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