On Useful Candor

The reason we aren’t candid with people is we are protecting someone. It may be someone else, our self, or both.

Five things we protect:

  1. Reputation.
  2. Status.
  3. Position.
  4. Status quo.
  5. Opportunities.

Why we protect:

  1. Fear.
  2. Capability. For example, we protect 120 pound boxers from 220 pounders.

A better way:

The guiding rule for candor is “usefulness.”

Candor is not saying everything you feel regardless of the consequences. That type of openness is useful in some areas but not in all.

A leader’s speech is always candid and useful.


Ten days in the hospital and counting demonstrate the value of candor. The people caring for me need to hear my complaints, but complaining rubs me the wrong way.

Under normal circumstances, talking about a pain in my side is complaining. However, three broken ribs may transform my complaint into useful information; information that helps us all effectively reach shared goals.

On candor that is not useful:

  1. Constantly repeating complaints isn’t useful its self-defeating.
  2. Candor apart from usefulness is cruel.


  1. Seeks the highest good of others.
  2. Never publicly blows off steam.
  3. Is mission guided, vision driven, and defined by shared values.
  4. Shifts through complaining to asking for options and solutions.

Rather than protecting someone, yourself, or your organization, have useful candor.

How can leaders develop useful candor within organizations?