Actualized Leadership: Candor

Actualized Leadership: Candor

A “no” uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a “yes” merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.
Mahatma Gandhi

A lack of candor is the biggest, dirtiest little secret in business.
Jack Welch

In our last BLOG we examined the third and final cognitive or thinking attribute of Actualized Leaders, Optimal Time Orientation (OTO).  In this blog I would like to turn our attention to the three behavioral or ‘doing’ attributes of Actualized Leaders: Candor, Flow, and Solitude.  Today’s update will focus on Candor, why it’s important, and specific steps we can take to be more candid with others and, in doing so, reclaim our voice and authenticity.

Candor is defined as “the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression.”  A key element in Gandhi’s opening quote is that this state of authenticity comes from our “deepest conviction.”  I believe that he is emphasizing that being honest and direct with others is a way in which we honor our own beliefs and convictions.  Note that Candor does not come from a place of bravado or being blunt – the intent is not to hurt or tear down.  Rather, it is direct, honest, and authentic communication with another party intended to convey your true beliefs and feelings.  Maslow said that self-actualizing individuals regularly practice Candor.  In fact, it is so engrained in who they are as an authentic person that they simply cannot operate in any other mode.

In his best-selling book “Winning,” former GE CEO Jack Welch devoted an entire chapter to Candor, or the lack thereof.  He states that a lack of Candor means you are not expressing yourself with frankness, and not being true to yourself.  He went on to say that a lack of Candor means that the truth gets sugar-coated, making it harder to deal with reality.  Bank of America executive Cathy Bessant states that candor allows you “to cut to the chase while honoring your team mates.”  As Jim Collins states in “Good to Great,” effective leaders have the courage to be candid and “confront the brutal facts.”  He then went on to say something profound: when we have the courage to deal with the truth and reality of our situation – any situation – the “right” decision become self-evident.  How many of us struggle with action anxiety and postponing difficult decisions, compounding our problems instead of solving them, because we are afraid to confront our reality?

In one of my first blogs – “My ‘F’ in Life” – I recounted my introduction to self-awareness at the hands of the late Jerry B. Harvey, famed author of “The Abilene Paradox.”  Dr. Harvey was extremely candid with me at a time when I was at my lowest point.  As I was hoping for his sympathy, he said things to me like ‘as much as you want me to feel sorry for you, I don’t; I feel sorry for your soon-to-be ex-wife.  She’s co-dependent and that’s dysfunctional, but you’re worse, much worse, because as a pro-dependent you created this dysfunction.’  He said more, much more, but you get the general idea.

Later Dr. Harvey told me that our encounter that December afternoon was my ultimate “test” with him.  He would decide, based on my reaction, whether or not to spend any more time and energy with me.  He also said that one day I would come to realize that the candid feedback he gave me was a “gift.”  He was right.  If he had chosen to be pleasant and polite with me, and self-censor what he really thought about me and my situation, he would have deprived me of what has truly been one of the greatest gifts of my life: candid, sincere feedback that transformed me.

So, whether you’re leading an organization or engaged in a personal relationship, or anything in between, you owe it to yourself and the other party to be candid.  I challenge you to consider the following to help support you on your journey:

  1. Feedback is a gift.
  2. Don’t assume the other person “can’t take it” – what does that say about you to assume that in others?
  3. You are responsible for what you say and how you say it, not the other party’s reaction.
  4. If you are to truly actualize into your highest potential, you must act in alignment with your beliefs and values; every time you’re candid with someone you take a big step on your journey (and may give the other party a huge lift in their own).
  5. When we self-censor, we don’t stand still, we retreat back into fear.  Life’s too short to take a step backwards.

Maslow was very clear in his thinking: life is about choices, and we should have the courage of our convictions to make the difficult, and often uncomfortable, choice.  When we practice Candor with others we are not only taking steps forward on our journey toward actualizing our fullest potential, we are honoring them by telling the truth.
In the spirit of the Season, maybe it’s time you gave someone the “gift” of your honest, candid feedback.


  1. Saad Hamdan

    “Candor is a compliment; it implies equality. It is how true friends talk.”
    ― Peggy Noonan

  2. Kelly Bowland

    Think about how much better we would be in our work and our relationships if we heard honest feedback regularly. Candor from a trusted party is priceless.


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