If you read a good bit on leading others you’ve probably noticed a seeming uptick in articles and books on the importance of candor in your work relationships. Broadly speaking candor can be understood as exercising the quality of being frank, open, and exceedingly honest in your opinion of someone or something. This means being willing to put aside the niceties and risk that a hard truth will better shape a desired outcome.
In the movie “Whiplash” the main character is an aspiring drummer whose wildly perfectionistic conductor shares with him “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.” While not a model of emotional intelligence it serves as view of candor of sorts. How often do we find our parting input on someone’s work to be “nice work” or “good job?” Is that the best a coaching leader who wants to invest in and sometimes challenge team members can offer? We all fall into the habit of doing it but we have to admit it amounts to rather mindless input. Can we strive to do better and find ways to both push people forward critically in their work while not losing appreciation for what they are doing? There is a proper balance that may be achieved with some proactive thought and here are some steps we can seek to put in place to help strengthen our ability to influence.
Take a minute: The first step here is to admit our busy-ness. The demands of the day and the required connectivity of our roles push us to rush from one task to the next just to try to keep up. Often it is not a fear of forthrightness or candor that stops us, we just don’t take an extra couple of minutes to truly examine something or appreciate someone. Our busy-ness may knock one or two extra things off the task list over the course of a day but if we are not pausing to invest in the team and give good critical feedback to projects we aren’t helping ourselves. The first step is to take the long view and not sacrificing the long-term potential of a few minutes of investment in someone over the short-term victory of knocking out our task list.
Take your natural boldness one step further: There are those that possess and exercise an easy candor. The majority of us, however, get a bit of a mental “hiccup” when we have to offer a candid opinion of someone’s project or performance. A good place to start is an awareness of your existing comfort level in this area and take baby steps of boldness. If your past interactions haven’t tended to be bold and candid then your first attempts are likely to come off as at best awkward and at worst leaving someone to think that you are having a really bad day. Instead, try incremental and what feels more like natural progressions in your interactions. You will find you begin to grow into it. Leading questions like “How might we….” or “What would happen if we…” come off as very non-threatening and can actually help someone open up their thinking. The first step in boldness is thinking through it from the angle of how you share your comment in the context of how you can help that person solve a problem.
Trade out worthless phases: As referenced above let’s begin to watch our speech patterns and do away with meaningless phrases like “nice work” and “way to go.” Let’s admit they are lazy go-to phrases that don’t affirm the person or move the work forward in any significant way. Seek instead to look for phrases more entered around “I appreciate…” and “I noticed how hard you….” type of affirmations. These serve more to directly encourage someone when legitimately earned and can help produce the quality of work and ideas a leader wants to see.
Truth and candor is almost always the harder route because it takes extra time and energy as well as an additional burden of potential risk. Once you begin to practice it, however, you will quickly find yourself becoming the type of leader who dreads more the ramifications of not having the difficult conversation over the fear of having the difficult conversation itself. This mental accomplishment is a strong sign you are on the path to becoming an influential leader.