CANDOR – PART 1
On the face of it, being candid shouldn’t be that hard. Just tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and don’t hedge it or mislead others with it. Although this simple rule sounds easy enough to follow, our day-to-day actions often show the difficulty of putting it into practice.
The importance of candor to executive presence, however, cannot be overestimated. That’s because most people know something is up when we’re not fully forthcoming. This is unacceptable for a leader and works against any executive presence you’re trying to project. As leaders, we must always be seen as truthful and trusted.
Setting aside intentional ethics violations and outright illegal behavior, where a lack of candor is the whole point of communication, many of us still miss the mark on candor from time-to-time. In talking with people about why this is so, two reasons keep surfacing. One is that we’re not always sure what to be candid about. We certainly can’t tell everything to everyone all of the time, so where do we draw the line?
The other is that we aren’t sure how to go about being candid. How do we honestly engage others to discuss difficult things without appearing defensive, alienating, or confrontational? This tip deals with the first of these two reasons. Tip #3 will deal with the second.
What we should be candid about. Nothing is more straightforward than this: If you’re going to talk about something, be candid about it. Remember, you don’t have to talk about everything. You decide what you’re going to talk about. If you’re not going to be candid about a topic, don’t talk about it. If you’re asked a question about it, be prepared to defer the question, but you must have a very good reason for doing so. It’s really that simple, if you adhere to the following four guidelines.
- If you decide not to talk about something, ask yourself why. Whose interest is being served by not talking about it? If it’s yours, you’re probably hiding something, which is an early warning sign of trouble ahead. If it’s the company’s, ask yourself what the company interest is and how it is being served by avoiding open communication. And, be rigorous in this questioning; it’s where much of the trouble starts for many executives.
Never hide from the truth or deceive others. If it’s bad news that needs to be talked about, it is imperative that you get it out quickly and honestly. All of it. Deferring talking about it because it’s uncomfortable, potentially contentious, or sheds a bad light on company practices, will only make it more difficult to talk about later. And, this will always detract from your executive presence, sometimes to the point of doing unrecoverable damage to it. The list of those to which this has happened is a long one with lots of prominent names on it.
When you’re talking about bad news, which is usually when candor begins to fade, it is critical that you really know what you’re talking about. You need the un-spun, un-varnished facts – all of them – and you’ll most likely have to dig hard to get them. But if you don’t get them and get them out quickly, you will not be able to define the situation and take control of it. Others will do that for you and you will forever be on the defensive. As an executive, this is not a position you want to find yourself in. Executive presence is not something you can maintain when you’re on the run.
Those big ugly webs of deceit that some of us get caught in almost never start out that way. They start small, as misleading statements or little “white lies.” They grow and get big as these little instances of deception need to be elaborated on and defended. Pretty soon the only choice is to lie or make what you said in the past look like one. Don’t get caught in this trap. Any executive presence you had hoped to project will vanish in an instant. The way to avoid this is to be candid, with both yourself and others, always.
In Candor, Part 2 we’ll talk about how to be candid without appearing defensive, alienating, or confrontational.