I've found that the Aussies tend to be better at it than Americans. Brits too. In both corporate America and in global non-profits there is a significant lack of it. What is it? Speaking openly, honestly and forthrightly to friends and colleagues. (And, I'd argue spouses, children, family members, and significant others.)
There are many ways to phrase it: Truth hurts. Brutally honest. Fair and open. What you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Being transparent... The reasons we don't do it vary as greatly as well: It makes us uncomfortable. It's easier to not tell the whole truth. It makes the receiver uncomfortable… All of them, just excuses. We like to hear what we're good at, but not so much what we're not good at. Regardless of the reason, the fact is that there is a significant lack of transparency and honesty in our communications.
A great friend of mine got me thinking about this recently. He sent me this link — an exceedingly interesting interview with Ray Dalio (the unbelievably successful founder of Bridgewater) — on this very topic. Ray has what you might call an obsession with honesty. And while I am conflicted with his approach (especially the emphasis on brutal honesty), there is something refreshing about the freedom that comes from being in a culture/environment where you are expected to deliver and receive brutally honest communications.
Think about how often we create issues for ourselves by not being entirely honest and transparent. It's uncomfortable to tell your mother that you don't want to come to Thanksgiving dinner because of the awkwardness of your crazy aunt who will be there — so you blame your "can't make it" on work, or the kids' schedule. How about the difficultly in telling your millennial manager they made a really bad decision, because you "know how sensitive they are," and are afraid they'd leave. How about the times when we don't want to say no, or "I disagree" because we want people to like us. You want to go out with your friends, but you feel guilty about not being home with your family, so you make up stories to pacify either side depending on your decision. I could go on and on.
This is particularly frustrating and destructive in the work environment. I'm sure everyone is familiar with the "meeting after the meeting". Why the meeting after the meeting? Because in the first meeting, people gave lip-service to the discussion. They were not honest about the issues, or their feelings, or worse, didn't say anything in the meeting, but ragged on everyone and every decision after the meeting. This behavior is unacceptable. It erodes trust, breaks down relationships, and destroys organizations from within. If you as a CEO or a leader are allowing this to happen, you need to stop it immediately. If you don't know if it's happening, you need to find out and eradicate it.
I'm not suggesting we all adopt Ray's approach, or even his philosophy. But I believe we could all use a "check up" and some help in exercising our "honesty muscles". Both in terms of how we use it on/with others, and maybe more importantly, how we use it to receive information and feedback from others. Lastly, you don't have to be brutal to be honest, nor does being honest = being unkind. Yes, somethings are better left un-said. But, mostly we just need to say things better.
As always, we love to hear your feedback and input!
Hard. Fun. Exhausting. Exhilarating. All-consuming. Freeing. And a whole lot more. As I prepare to host the CEO forum at the CLA Outcomes Conference next week (along with my good friend Russell Verhey), I've been reflecting on the unique challenges CEO's face. Having been a CEO at multiple companies, I'm especially sensitive to the "no where to go" syndrome many CEOs deal with. It's a reality often described as "I can't really talk to anyone about the struggles I am experiencing" (in life and at work). It can be a lonely place.
As a CEO, there is intense pressure to perform, to have all the answers, to always know what to do and how to do it, to ensure a safe, engaging working environment for all staff/team members. To be "superman/woman". After all, the buck stops with you (or should!)
Most CEO's are wired in a similar way. The things that motivate them as an individual frequently equate to success for the company. The core ingredient is often described as drive. That drive is both a blessing and a curse. Without the drive, the organization doesn't succeed (or sometimes never gets off the ground). CEOs are built for moving forward, obsessing about growth, taking the hill, tackling the next obstacle. But, I've found that to be the most effective, CEO's need to exercise and nurture their softer side as well.
Drive, untethered, can lead to a lot of collateral damage. Usually in the form of people. It might be trite, but your people are your most important asset. Without them, you can't find and service customers, can't make and deliver product, can't count the money, and you certainly can't grow. Taking time to grow your people is as important (probably more) as growing your company. Just like customers don't buy things from companies - they buy things from people - CEO's need to be human to effectively teach, grow and learn from the people they serve.
Yes, I said learn and serve. Leadership is a privilege, not a right. People under you know when you understand the difference (and certainly know when you practice it). Great leadership does not come from power. People know you have power and they follow power when they are required to. They follow good, servant-driven leaders because they want to.
So, while it's stressful, energizing, exhausting and exhilarating to be a CEO, it's also amazingly cool to be able to lead, influence and grow the people you serve. It's not easy, but easy isn't really what you signed up for when you became a CEO! Happiness in life and work doesn't come from easy, it comes from laying your head on your pillow believing you did the right thing - for your people and your company. Be a happy CEO.
(And remember, if you need an outside perspective or voice, we're happy to help!) As usual, we love to hear your thoughts and comments!
It's hard, especially when you're smart and know the answer. It seems simple, but we frequently miss the most important part of building relationships with our co-workers — listening. Effective listening seems to decrease as we get more mature in our careers, probably because we know (or at least we think we know) a lot more. Sometimes there is a switch, and we end up talking less and listening more. Sometimes.
Over the years, in working with a wide variety of executives, I've found that many people who, on the surface seem to passionately disagree, are actually not that far apart. The perceived distance is usually a result of not understanding the other person's perspective, or from not really listening to what they are wanting to do, or not taking the time to really understand the other person's perspective.
Listening takes practice…and patience. It helps to put yourself in the shoes of the other person, and try to understand things from their perspective. It also helps to try to "listen purely" — that is, without your agenda or your filter. If you can, try to just listen without simultaneously thinking about what your reply is going to be. Try to take what you hear at face value, without spoiling it by "grading it" based on how close it is (or not) to your perspective. If you are a man, try not to "fix" what was just said. Just listen. Like I said, listening is hard. (If you want to see a very funny video on this topic, click Here)
The discipline of good listening is a valuable tool in life, not just business. Want to make your marriage better? Become a better listener. Want to be a better parent, boss, or employee? Become a better listener.
Here is a short list of some simple ideas for becoming a better listener: (and please send me comments on ones you've used and have found to be effective!)
Steve is a husband, father, and business exec. He loves anything outdoors, anything that is a hard challenge, and enjoys working with anyone who wants to continually improve. And golf. He loves golf. Steve is the founder and CEO of Executive Advisory Partners.