Give It to Them Straight

Throughout my career as a leadership development professional, I’ve learned much about myself and others. One of the essential competencies I’ve developed is to be straight with people, especially as a coach. Here’s an example of it in practice…

Resistance to the Truth

Several years ago, I coached an executive in charge of the mergers and acquisitions of a large organization. As we reviewed his 360 Feedback Report, the executive remarked that it was the job that produced this bad report, not him.

Being straight with him, I proposed a bet where we go to an ATM and both withdraw $800 and have my assistant hold it until the bet was over. I proffered that he would quit this job and encounter the same problem six months from now at his new company. To which my client paused and said, “Let me think about this.” I gave him a week, adding “We also don’t have to work together. We can quit now if you’d like.”

Two days later, he emailed me saying he’d like to work together. I asked why. He said, “Because there are some issues I need to fix.” That acknowledgment was fine by me, we canceled the bet and got to work.

Commitment to the Truth

My point here is that I was immediately placed at a crossroads when my prospective client said it was the job, not him, that created the results and situation. As you might imagine, this was not the first time I had encountered such resistance to the truth from a client. So, I had to be straight with him, even if it cost me a client (and $800!). I knew that I had learned enough about him to counsel him about his actions. But I also knew he had to see those actions as detrimental first before any positive change was going to take place. So, I was straight with him, allowing him to make the next move. Had I danced around the issue, which was that he was responsible for the negative report, he might not have been so ready to concede. Straight talk got his attention, his trust, and his determination to move forward.

The lessons for you, as a leader, to take away from this are:

  1. Never sugarcoat the truth about someone’s incorrect behavior or comportment. All it does is perpetuate the behavior you want to transform.
  2. Remain committed/resolute to the person’s transformation of the behavior you’ve acknowledged. It’s only through your tenacity that the direct report realizes the requirement of their change.

As you go forward as a leader, be straight with direct reports. If you don’t trust them, or believe in them, or feel they’re not up to the job, share this with them. Then, probe them to determine what’s important to them from your empathetic candor. It will create a groundwork of transformation that starts from an honest, direct place which, in my experience, is always the best place to begin.