Many groups can’t bring themselves to discuss the most basic realities which define them. Members who behave rudely. Members who produce poor quality work. Members who are not completely honest about issues. Sacred cows that have existed in the group for years. It’s shocking how often people will come to work and simple step over the dead body in the room as if it’s not there. This is a learned behavioral routine. It is also a sign of poor leadership. This is unfortunate since getting past these barriers is required for real performance improvement.
Enter our friend candor. Candor: honest sincere expression. That is to say, it is not heavily nuanced, there is no beating around the bush. The main goal is not to save someone’s feelings (though that matters), but to get the point across accurately so that everyone gets it immediately. Yes, this must be done positively, you must admit any shared blame you have for this thing you are mentioning, you must offer solutions not merely indictments, etc. To have candor is not to lack civility. It is to set performance as the highest priority. To name the “invisible elephant in the room,” to tell the Emperor he has no clothes, these are difficult tasks. Be honest and look in the mirror Mr. Leader. If your group can’t manage a little candor, you are choosing mediocrity.
You know that your group is choosing mediocrity, choosing civility over candor when members consistently denounce ugly interpersonal behaviors, yet consistently fail to discuss ugly individual or group performance. A person who uses an errant expletive or a member who is late to team meeting or someone who raises their voice a little too much – a mediocre group is likely to severely punish these members. A truly mediocre group will punish these members and willfully fail to address the performance issue which was being addressed. Loads of civility absent real performance discussions solves nothing. Civility then becomes an empty value. Brave leaders must simultaneously care about civility while holding performance in even higher esteem.