I posted on LinkedIn a while ago that good leaders need to be good at candid conversations and that these types of conversations were in short supply. Based on comments, it seems that most people associate “candid” with delivering difficult news – and maybe that is what I was thinking about too when I posted that.
But when I thought about it more, what I really mean is a conversation based on honesty and transparency, and I believe that conversations like these build trust, free up creativity, and build resilience.
I think they are critical, but I don’t think they are easy. They require bravery and vulnerability and enough confidence in ourselves to be ok with not knowing all the answers.
Imagine a situation where you need to add or change the processes around a specific aspect of your business. You could simply implement the changes and tell your staff to follow them. Or, you could talk to your staff about the problem you are trying to solve and invite them to give you honest feedback about how they are working. This gives them more ownership of the processes, which can increase their commitment to seeing them through. Also, you could get insight to help you solve the problem more effectively.
The more that you bring your staff into these kinds of discussions, the more trust you build. They begin to feel like a valued member of the team who is contributing to the bottom line, which leads to greater job satisfaction and longevity. As the trust builds, you can expand your discussions into areas that may seem more vulnerable.
For example, imagine that a business owner said to her staff, “We did such an amazing job on that project, we’re getting noticed. I’m worried that we don’t have the capacity to deal with that success, and I’m not quite sure how to move us forward.” By admitting that you don’t have all the answers and inviting them to help, you double-down on the trust, and you provide an opening for their creativity.
There are going to be times, however, when you are going to have to tell someone that they are not meeting your expectations. These are the tough ones. If you’ve already built trust, these conversations can go more easily, but you must muster up the courage to tell that person honestly and candidly what they are doing, what the impact is, and be clear about the consequences if things don’t change. Here again, invite them to share honestly what is holding them back and have them offer solutions to help them be more successful.
If you catch the problem quickly and deal with it head on, you may be able to make a small problem go away completely. But, if you let problems linger, they can grow beyond your ability to fix them. The result can be loss of staff and loss of business.
If you’d like some help with these kinds of conversations, let me know.