A Culture of Constructive Candor

“Speaking your truth” can be overrated. For one thing, your truth carries many pounds of biased, personal baggage. For another thing, politeness and insincerity can serve like the glue that holds society together. If everyone said to everyone else’s face what they really believed, there would be no end to our griefs and no relief from our woes.

But there comes a point when politeness leads to the failure of many gifted, intelligent, noble people and organizations. It keeps them from ever identifying in themselves an Achilles’ heel that in fact was common knowledge to many people. So the challenge is for individuals and organizations to learn to use truth as a tool instead of a weapon.

For organizations and for individuals to get the feedback they need, they must make a concerted effort to give people permission to speak their minds…without penalty. This takes far more than sending out internal surveys or holding town meetings.  Good leadership requires establishing a culture of constructive candor.

This culture of constructive candor need not involve a 24/7 onslaught of ideas and protests and rebuttals. That can be just as counterproductive as silence. It also need not involve being overly open to broadsides from hopeless cynics. It does involve the ability to initiate conversations with valued employees at all levels, with focused questions that lend themselves to solutions,

Good leadership requires establishing a culture of constructive candor.

Summing-up: This approach is harder than it looks. It takes incredible humility and strength on the part of leaders. But if building a culture of constructive candor is hard, failure that results from insufficient candor is so much harder.

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