Great leaders not only demand the best of themselves, they expect the best of all they influence. – Chip Bell
If you’ve read the books in the Divergent series, or have seen the movie, then you know that candor is one of the tribes that is portrayed as the most unlikable. The people are snarky, say things that don’t need to be said and are not very caring. This work of fiction definitely takes it to the extreme, but that is what a lot of people think when they hear the word “candor” and frankly, that is often how it feels.
As a leader, how do you walk that line of encouraging your team to be candid, and also not to take candid feedback too personally – especially when your team is passionate about what they do? As we’ve said in the past, great teams want to be better than the sum of their parts. To do that, we have to be in a position to say, “I get where you’re going, but we haven’t gotten to great yet.”
Rich Sheridan, one of our speakers who is coming to Catalyst University 2015, has instilled an awesome concept around this topic at his company, Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor. This is a company committed to delivering the best products to their customers, even if that means having some candid, not-so-pretty, behind-the-scenes meetings. When these kinds of meetings occur where people have to be unusually candid, Menlo Innovations employees conduct the meeting wearing plastic Viking helmets. The reason being – it’s pretty difficult to be mad at someone who is having a serious interchange with you while wearing a Viking helmet. This has become their symbol to promote open dialogue.
The key is to always approach candor with love. Sometimes this can feel a little bit like high school when someone says, “It’s not you, it’s me.” There is still some sting involved, but as leaders we have to get comfortable with honesty or we will end up being nothing more than mediocre.
The other day, I was in someone’s office and noticed that he had a copy of John Lennon’s original version of Imagine hanging on the wall. What’s amazing about it is that the words are all written by hand and then scratched out and edited all over the place. Maybe he played the song for a friend or a mentor, but I bet there was some candid feedback involved many times over before it ever got to be the wildly famous version that you and I know today.
Leaders need to innovate to achieve greatness. The best way to do that is to present your idea and ask others to lift it up in innovation, creativity and honesty. If it’s not that good, they need to say so. If the vision isn’t clear, that needs to be addressed. You can’t get there by yourself. You can only get there with the assistance of others. You’ve got to fall in love with the impact you could make, not in love with the idea itself. Great leaders must to be able to change, and that is really hard.
If we want to achieve a Lennon-level of greatness, we have to surround ourselves with great partners who can nurture us and be candid with us. Most importantly, we have to be open to accept that candid feedback.
Question: As a leader, are you open to receiving candid feedback or do you have a tendency to take things too personally? Likewise, have you been holding back on sharing candid feedback with others?