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Real Leadership

Beware This Candor Killer

Okay, so welcome to another one of my Todd Talks, which always exists to help you improve your leadership, make a greater difference in the world, and help other people do the same. And today I want to talk to you about one of the hallmarks of high performing leadership teams, and it’s their ability to get to candor, to openly communicate and challenge each other in ways that both deepen trust and generate a ton of progress on the real issues. And one of the biggest obstacles to candor on leadership teams is their use of leading questions. Questions that leaders used to get their colleagues to think, feel, and act in ways that they think are best. As such, they’re a control mechanism and nothing kills candor like control. So let me share a story that Kate one company CEO shared with me that’ll probably ring a little familiar.

So here’s what she had to say in her own words. Okay, let’s see. Ah, “I’m already direct and I ask a lot of questions in a Socratic dialogue approach.” I’m sure that’s fun. “But the real leadership teams program helped me realize that many of my questions were leading, which left my colleagues feeling confused and manipulated.” It’s a very common reaction to leading questions. “And since the first workshop, I’ve made a concerted effort to eliminate my leading questions and to make the business case for my decisions a lot more explicit.” That’s exactly the right move. Good. “I recently received some nice feedback that my teammates can now see that I’ve been making decisions with the best interest of the organization as a whole in mind and not out of some need for personal control.” Okay, that’s a really big deal. “And these are skills I’ll continue exercising, as I’m already seeing positive ripples from the workshop throughout all levels of our organization.”

All right, so what a great story. The obvious lesson from the story is to avoid leading questions for all the reasons that we talked about before, but it’s also a really important reminder of the risks of the downsides of not expressing ourselves. Oftentimes, we worry about speaking the truth of what we really think and feel because of all the negative consequences that we imagine might result from that. But there are also negative consequences when we cover up what we think and feel, particularly when we hide all of that behind leading questions. And you can see from the story people started attributing to her all these nefarious motives because when you’re not more forthcoming with what you really think and feel, people will generally fill in the blanks. And if they feel controlled by you, the kinds of things they’re going to attribute to you are generally going to be more negative than the actual truth.

It also illustrates how small changes can make a big difference, because if you think about how she modified her behavior, it wasn’t some big transformation. After simply a day and a half at the initial workshop, she just started making more of her reasoning, her business case for the decisions that she made explicit, instead of asking leading questions. And now people are seeing that her motives are pure, that she’s been making decisions with the best interests of the company in mind, and that’s a transformation in her reputation with only a small change in her behavior.

So thanks for listening. I hope you found this valuable, and I’ll see you next time. But in the meantime, be curious, be compassionate, be collaborative, but most of all, be candid.

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