Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Do You Have the Courage to Be Candid?

In survey after survey, integrity is always one of the top qualities people say they want in leaders. However, one study has determined there are 185 different behavioral expectations around integrity. I’d like to talk about one of them here, candor – “the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression. “ (

Communicating with candor can be tricky, no matter who you are talking with. It takes some courage to speak frankly to a boss. Some people have trouble doing it with anyone if it involves bringing up something distasteful.

In a speech at the US Naval Academy last April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a hall full of midshipmen that vision, perseverance, candor and moral courage are essential qualities for 21st-century leaders. “In addition to speaking hard truths to your superiors,” he said, “as a leader you must create a climate that encourages candor among your subordinates, especially in difficult situations.”

Straight talk, integrity and courage should always be encouraged and rewarded. Wisely, Secretary Gates noted: “In a perfect world that should always happen. Sadly, it does not, and I will not pretend there is not risk. At some point, each of you will surely work for a jackass. We all have. But that does not make taking that stand any less necessary for the sake of our country.”

Or for the sake of your own organization and peace of mind.

I want to make some distinctions about candor. Candor is not forgetting who your audience is. Speaking to the troops, Gates’ use of the word “jackass” was candidly appropriate. But some audiences might be offended or regard the use of coarse language as evidence of coarse behavior – not necessarily behavior connoting integrity.

Candor is not bluntness. It can be blunt, but again, know your audience. Being frank, particularly about negative issues, may require some diplomatic lead-in so that you don’t come across as cold or overly direct.

Candor is not always about something negative. Yes, according to marketing’s ‘Law of Candor’ admitting a negative creates a positive impression in the prospect’s mind. For example, Avis stating they are number two impresses the audience with the company’s honesty. A leader sincerely admitting they were wrong impresses the listeners. See the second video below for an example of a commercial that uses the Law of Candor to the max.

In the first video below we see a former CEO of Philip Morris. What he says may be the truth as he sees it, but does he seem candid to you? He may feel that he is being honest. Nothing he says is necessarily a lie, yet the way he presents the information, without any concern or acknowledgement of the whole truth, leads me to believe that he lacks integrity, even though I can find no lies in his presentation. He doesn’t impress me as being “frank, open or sincere.”

The second video shows a business owner being very candid about his products. He is not dressed in a nice suit, and doesn’t convey a sense of wealth and education. Which video instills more trust? Which leader would you allow to influence you more? Which leader shows more integrity?

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