published in the Nashville Business Journal
Throughout my career I have always tried to be direct in my business dealings. I learned early in life that sugarcoating issues is simply a delay tactic. Eventually you have to face reality. To be effective we all need accurate and complete information. Without it, we run the risk of making poorly informed decisions. And those tend to boomerang on you. The best way to solve problems is to address them head on with all the unvarnished facts on the table.
I was lucky to learn the value of frankness from two different leaders early in my career. While their styles were unique, they were both very direct with me. Their constructive coaching and fact-based criticism helped me become a more effective leader.
I also learned directness on the job — from my own employees. For example, on more than one occasion a young woman on my team dropped into my office and said something to this effect: “Do you realize the impact of what you said to Frank this morning?” Clearly, I didn’t. But her directness gave me the opportunity to apologize and clarify something that was not received positively.
I will forever be grateful. You can best lead when you have associates who feel free to give you tough feedback. I’ve since tried to pass down what I absorbed over the years about the value of directness in business.
Talking to your team: There is great potential in being straight with the folks who work for you. Directness is a reflection of honesty, a quality that builds greater mutual respect. So don’t beat around the bush about individual and team performance issues. Review the facts, plan your discussion and start communicating. When you help your team members perform more effectively you all win.
Being clear with business partners: Shooting straight with those you deal with outside your organization is also a winning formula. When either side holds back, an aura of distrust clouds the business dealing, which can only confuse and potentially ruin the relationship. Both sides function best with clear, timely and direct communication.
Sharing knowledge with your boss: I know that most of the best ideas in our company come directly from those closest to the work. So don’t be shy about sharing. Your boss will be at his or her best when working with complete and accurate information, so it helps both you and your higher up. Good leaders want to hear from the team, so be direct in sharing your forward-looking thoughts about any important aspect of work operations.
Delivering bad news: Everyone wants to hear good news, but sometimes we have an obligation to deliver bad news. Our unit will perform best when we have all the facts and can make the best decisions possible. Plan the delivery of the tough stuff carefully and thoroughly, but don’t wait. Delaying sharing unpleasant news often makes it worse in the long run. Gather the facts and your courage — and get it over with.
Discussing performance reviews: Most of us dread and often postpone difficult employee performance discussions. Again, don’t procrastinate. You can bet your employee knows it is coming and will be equally happy to put it in the history books. The best tactics for reviews are to research your points; stick to the facts; avoid generalized words like always and never; and don’t get emotional.
I know it always makes me feel good when people thank me for being direct. It’s a sign of respect. Not everyone is anxious to hear the truth, but in the long run accurate information delivered upfront is best for all concerned. Being direct in all your communications will put you on a positive path to leadership success.