Jack Welch -- a famed business executive and the CEO of General Electrics for 20 years -- spent the first two hours of a recent two-day executive training session exhorting the benefits of being honest and direct.
"People don't know where they stand and are then surprised during their performance review or when released, says Welch."Without candor, everything slows down!"
Having read about Mr. Welch's in-your-face management style I was still a bit shocked, but the simple truth of what he was saying was unarguable and quite refreshing.
Trying to get executives to be honest with each other (as one of my client puts it "creating a culture of truth") can be a difficult undertaking. We don't want to hurt other's feelings, we don't want to be perceived as mean or thoughtless or rock the boat. There are a whole variety of good reasons why candor is chancy, if not downright dangerous.
But consider the alternative, or as another client calls it "a culture of politeness." If people in your company are (sensibly) passionate about pursuing a direction or are encountering issues that are impeding productivity and profits, would you prefer they remain polite and cautious? As Margaret Thatcher so brilliantly put it, "What great cause would have been fought for and won under the banner 'I stand for consensus'?"
Candor without a commitment to mutual success is simply rudeness or reckless. However, when being direct and open originates from a desire to improve each other and the organization as a whole. Interactions get to the heart of individual and collective blindness, weaknesses or bad habits and allow for dramatic improvements in productivity.
Yes, artfulness in how best to raise concerns and challenge others effectively is useful (plenty of books and experts are available to help people practice these skills). But as the leader of the organization it is your job to set the tone and help people engage more courageously.
Remember, one of the greatest impediments to organizational success is what people are avoiding saying and dealing with. You'll unleash a torrent of ideas, energy and solutions by changing this one dynamic.
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