Candor is King

Friends,

Jack came home this week frustrated with the environment in his classroom.  Some students were lagging behind, the classroom had become too social, and so his teacher had cracked down.  Jack felt the freedom at the heart of the Montessori system was being squeezed out.  It was unfair, he said for everyone to feel the crackdown, and he also thought the teacher would get more with carrots than with punitive sticks.  So, Jack announced to me that he had asked for and been promised a meeting with his teacher and the principal.  As parents we admired the little man’s gumption, and we were amused by the birth of this righteous spirit.

Most of all, I was blown away (again) by the school’s culture.  They flat-out welcomed dissent! In many “normal” schools, this is not how the dissent would have been managed.  The easiest thing (as with businesses) would be to just not take the kid seriously.  After all, he’s ten and culture is the domain of adults (supervisors).  If he persisted, the school could – and could have in this case – shift the focus to the student’s failings.  In this case, the school saw Jack’s dissent as a wonderful opportunity to teach and learn about culture, about how groups balance freedom and responsibility, about the tough choices of those in authority, and about Jack’s own role.  He left feeling heard, and no doubt spreading the word throughout the already positive culture that it was okay to raise issues with the authorities.

Imagine the workplaces we would have if more of our schools created such learning cultures!  Imagine the lawsuits avoided at work!  Imagine the shared learning if people were more open to understanding the diverse perspectives of work.  Where Jack was welcomed to dissent, I find that people come to me to find an end run when they feel they have not been heard.*  And when I raise their issues I sometimes end up being the “shot at messenger,” who is really just trying to invite people to listen and engage, instead of feeling like they are being attacked.

There are tens of studies that have demonstrated that openness and candor in the workplace – especially in the 21st century economy – promote innovation, speed, quality, and productivity.  When it comes to cultures that generate results, candor is king.

But as a supervisor, manager, or if you’re even higher in the food chain, YOU MUST PROACTIVELY WORK to generate an atmosphere of  candor.  (Sorry for all the bolds, caps and underlines, but I’m TRYING TO SCREAM THE POINT: be proactive.  When someone has an issue, do you absolutely welcome it as an opportunity to learn and to teach, to engage and improve?  More importantly, if I asked your people this, would they say, “Totally, s/he loves it when we challenge to make things work better!”   You’ve got to work to create that kind of culture and so to

Lead with your best self!

Dan

NOTE: This Saturday on my radio show, I’ll be joined by Stephen Covey, author of perhaps the best book ever written on personal effectiveness, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (a great gift, by the way, for approaching graduations).  Listen to the show at 7 am ET through www.danmulhern.com

** yes, some ARE just “whiners,” but some have important data that needs to be heard.