Skip to main content
The Power of Candor

Candor: What it is and is NOT

Todd Holzman: I think the first thing we need to clarify is what candor is. I think the best way to do that is talking about what it isn’t and to clarify some misconceptions about it. First of all, it isn’t saying whatever we think and feel, right? As entertaining as that might be, it’s good for a reality show, but not so hot for real life. I was literally, two weeks ago, I was talking to the head of talent development, the global head of talent development for, let’s call them a well-known financial institution. She said to me, “We’ve just launched the last couple years a new leadership principle called Challenge, which is we’re trying to encourage people to speak up.” Guess what happened?

Speaker: Free for all.

Todd Holzman: Free for all. Yeah. It got chaotic. What she said is all the sociopaths came out of the woodwork and they used it as an excuse to say anything that they thought and felt regardless of how ugly and unkind it was. That has really stuck with me. I think so the reason why it’s not just about saying everything we think and feel. Is because candor, without compassion, without kindness, I think can be cruelty. How many relate to that all? Just quick show of hands. Okay, thank you. I think there’s another reason. There’s another thing it’s not that’s important to clarify. It’s not only saying what you think and feel. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. One, the truth may not be in our head, right? It may be in his head and in her head, or a piece of it’s in my head, in her head, in his head, and if by reconciling and combining our respective truths that we might be able to understand what’s really true together.

I think there’s a biblical saying, I think it’s from Corinthians, excuse me for those of you who know this a lot better than I do, we see through the glass half darkly. That reminds me that our truth may not be the truth, but I think it’s also true that we need to be good recipients of the truth as well, and not just good expressers of our versions of it. Because, I don’t know, life is hard, and I think we all need honest feedback from people who can give it to us with kindness, with compassion, so that we’re better suited to the demands that life throws at us and that so we could unlock our full potential as human beings. The idea of the truth setting us free, transcending our smaller selves and stepping into our bigger selves. Obviously I’m not the only person to say this out loud. Some of the best philosophers and psychologists have been pretty adamant about that.

Here’s what Nietzsche had to say about it. He was a decent philosopher. He knew a thing or two about a thing or two. He asserted that the strength of a person’s soul or character could be measured by the degree to which the amount of truth that one could tolerate. More precisely, the extent to which one needs to have it diluted, disguised, sweetened, muted or falsified. What do you guys think about that by the way? Nietzsche’s kind of hardcore, isn’t he?

Did he ever just have a beer with his friends and just relax? Everything he says is just so darn intense. Okay, so if candor isn’t saying whatever you think and feel, and if it isn’t saying only saying what you think and feel, then what the heck is it? I offer you my definition of it. It’s the ability to treat every important conversation as a collaborative search for the truth in ways that serve people and the common good. If our expressing the truth of what we have to say, if it’s on behalf of serving and doing good, then I think we’re on a good track. But it’s equally about exploring the truth of how other people see things. It’s through this collaborative search for the truth that perhaps we can do a lot of good to the people around us and the world around us.


Leave a Reply