22 January 2017

How honest are you?

lawrence jones verbier

On the slopes of Verbier

It is an interesting question, isn’t it?

With Donald Trump hitting the headlines less for his historic inauguration and more for his spinning of the truth, honesty is high on the agenda right now.

We’ve discussed passion and humility, strength and tenacity as key leadership qualities and I think we take honesty as a given – don’t you?

I believe in transparency, in sharing what’s happening in the business and plans for the future; it builds mutual respect with your team. But are there certain things that don’t need to be said?

I recently read about a new trend sweeping Silicon Valley called Radical Candor. Having been told that she says ‘um’ too much in presentations and that it makes her look stupid, Kim Scott, who’s been a CEO coach at Twitter and Dropbox, created the trend which demands that you care personally and challenge directly. Don’t skirt about an issue.

Invariably, feedback is something to learn from and a way to flag areas that need development, however my concern is that it could easily stray into unnecessary truths and result in needlessly hurt feelings.

Could Alan Sugar’s Apprentice boardroom behaviour come under the guise of candour? To me, it’s just bullying. It sets a poor example to budding business leaders and suggests that humiliating your team is part of being ‘the boss’.

I believe that feedback should instead be given tactfully and should never be done publicly. Giving negative feedback can very easily cause embarrassment. I’ve seen it first hand, being on the receiving end of poor management and being embarrassed in front of a team and it is not something that I think my team should experience.

This feedback lesson is one of the first things I teach every one of my management team – if you need to share feedback, take the team member to one side and have a chat. You’re likely to find out much more about the team member that way too – perhaps even finding the real reason for the issue.

As business owners we have to approach feedback head on and tackle potentially awkward conversations diplomatically and empathetically, but honestly. I believe that it is one of the biggest challenges that leaders face, but it is also one of the greatest and most respected skills you can possess. The ability to give negative feedback but leave your employee feeling great by the end of the meeting is a talent that very few leaders possess. You’re helping people to grow.

More often than not, praise and encouragement are needed in place of the ‘honesty’ of pointing out someone’s flaws. It is an extraordinarily fine balance to strike and I fear that the ‘radical’ approach could easily do more harm than good.

What do you think?

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