Have you ever been captivated by one word?  I have!  I recently completed a Jack and Suzy Welch book entitled Winning.  The one word in that book that most captivated me was “candor”.  Now that is a “loaded” word!

What is so loaded about the word candor, you may ask?  I am so glad you brought that up, because I have been dying to talk about it.

One variation of the definition of candor in the Merriam Webster dictionary is:  unreserved, honest, or sincere expression:  forthwrightness 

Seems straight forward (no pun intended) don’t you think?  After all, isn’t it easier to tell it the way it really is than to make something up that is not the way it really is?  That is particularly true if we have to repeat it multiple times.  If not as it really is we will have to be well-rehearsed, have a great memory or both to maintain any consistency between our explanations.

This is what Jack Welch writes about candor in his book Winning – “I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN a huge proponent of candor. In fact, I talked it up to GE audiences for more than twenty years.  But since retiring from GE, I have come to realize that I underestimated its rarity.  In fact, I would call lack of candor the biggest dirty little secret in business.”

He goes on to describe the adverse effects on an organization as “Lack of candor basically blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got.  It’s a killer.”

Then he also describes the value of candor in an organization by writing: “When you’ve got candor-and you’ll never completely get it, mind you-everything just operates faster and better.”

So if candor is so straight forward, why isn’t it more prevalent in businesses?  Could it be that because businesses (they always become the bad guys) are comprised of people?  Of course they are and that is why now in this discussion I think we may be on to something of value.

Before we get to the “you and I” part – people, let’s go back to two words in Merriam’s definition: unreserved and forthrightness.  If you think about those words and then about what Jack Welch wrote – “… and you’ll never completely get it”, either Jack is all wet or the absoluteness of those two words, unreserved and forthrightness are impossible to attain.

Let’s brainstorm a bit about the people part of this equation, which brings the lack of absoluteness into the discussion in full force.  Two major topics come to mind immediately when I think about “us” (people).  The first major topic is a single word: fear.  We are creatures with more than an ample amount of fears.  We fear failure, rejection, not being loved, pain, discomfort, struggles, difficulties and on and on and on.  So if we fear rejection as an example, how difficult does it become to be unreserved and forthright with others?  Well, if we have the potential to offend someone else in any way, chances are that the thought will enter our brain and project in big bold letters the word ‘REJECTION’ right in front of us to look at and ponder.  Is it really worth me being unreserved and forthright when my thoughts and words will likely cause me to be rejected by this person?

Thinking back to what I recently wrote about preferring Starbuck’s coffee to the coffee available to us in Sochi during the Paralympic Games, it reminds me of why I didn’t tell my server at the restaurant that I really didn’t like the choice of coffee provided.  Admittedly, I thought about asking them why they didn’t serve Starbuck’s in such a tourist area when it would have been a much better choice and surely greatly preferred by patrons. Instead I just quietly mentioned it to my wife Maureen.  Why did I not say something to the restaurant workers?  One reason was for sure that I wanted them to like me.  I didn’t want to be rejected by them and be considered the oft-mentioned “ugly” American.  I was afraid of that possibly occurring.  Perhaps the reason there was no Starbuck’s there was that everyone felt the same way I did.

The concept of “truth over harmony” also comes to mind when I think of candor.  Our human nature is predominantly one where we seek harmony first.  Why do we do that?  We have already answered that question – it is because of fear.  Truth over harmony requires that we shed those fears to the degree that we can behave and communicate with candor despite our fears.  It has often been written and stated, even biblically, in the gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 32: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

So if candor and truth are so valuable why then does fear dominate us enough to keep us from the truth and candor?  There is another expression that I believe to be true (no pun intended here either) that may best answer that question: ‘The truth will set you free, but first it may make you miserable’. As natural self-preservationists it is our tendency to maintain harmony (however that is defined) so to remain in our comfort zones and avoid those things that we fear the most.  Getting to the real truth often upsets that apple cart because it gets inside us to places where we rarely want to go.

In businesses, Welch states that the lack of candor “blocks” good things and candor removes the blocks and things get done faster and better.  Therein lays the struggle of conflicting values: practice candor to help things get done faster and better, or avoid the fear of the perceived unwanted by maintaining harmony.  Undertaking the struggle of acting in candor in the face of fear enables greater winning, both personally and in business.