Jack Welch on the Cruelest Environments
Image source: me
Jack Welch and candor come together.
It didn’t take long for the topic of candor to come up at the dinner I attended after the Chick-fil-A Leadercast. In his usual no-nonsense fashion, Jack said,
“If your employees don’t know where they stand, you have no right to call yourself a manager.”
Here’s what I’ve been thinking since dinner Friday night.
Sick, stressful environments include behaviors where:
- Side-stepping and pretending is normal. Candor is taboo, even offensive.
- Leaders “protect” others by massaging the message.
- Confronting issues is rare.
- Postponing, rather than addressing, is standard operating procedures.
Leaders who replace candor with hiding the truth become dishonest manipulators. They are either confused or self-absorbed or both.
Candor is kind; uncertainty is cruel.
Candor is kind because it generates clarity.
“Everyone wants to know where they stand.” Jack Welch
Dancing around feelings and ignoring issues:
- Creates uncertainty.
- Undermines credibility. You can’t trust leaders who don’t or won’t speak the truth.
- Prolongs agony.
- Encourages dishonesty.
- Discourages excellence. When leaders avoid tough conversations, excellence doesn’t matter.
Dishonesty, in the name of “not hurting”
someone, hurts everyone.
Behind mediocrity is a tough conversation someone didn’t have.
Credible leaders speak with:
- Compassion. Give improvement a chance.
- Optimism. (Another “c” would be perfect)
Credible leaders say what everyone already knows, but are afraid to say.
- Speak unvarnished truths. “Your angry outbursts frustrate your co-workers,” for example.
- Reject excuses and blame – quickly, clearly, and firmly.
- Develop clear pictures of “better” in terms of behaviors and outcomes.
- Provide training, support, and resources.
- Explain consequences.
- Establish deadlines.
Kind candor stabilizes organizations, validates performance, lowers stress, enables excellence, and simplifies relationships.
What are the key success factors for developing candor in organizations?
the best bosses I worked for were pissed when I screwed up, and thrilled when I did well.
NOw that’s candor. 🙂
I just left an organization that was afraid to have candid conversations on performance, primarily because the leadership could not provide a clear vision
Brilliant addition of vision to a conversation on candor. Candor without vision is imposing personal preferences on others… I suppose we should add values and mission to the bucket to round things out.
Super post. Love the phrase “massaging messages” although in this case others don’t knead them for the good but for confusion. Kind candor respects people, including their time. The amount of waste–especially wasted time–is unbelievably high in sick, stressful environments.
Candor respects people… KaChing!
Thank you for this, Dan.
Candor is speaking truth.
We recently had to address a situation in which we had badly hired a person into our organization. Neither he nor us had been untruthful in the hiring process, but we didn’t ask the right questions, and he wasn’t the person for the job. His immediate supervisor was acutely aware of this after a few weeks, but tried to make do by personally filling in for him. The next level supervisor was not in tune with what was going on, and did nothing. When I became aware of it from 2 remarks from co-workers, he had already been with the company for about 3 months. The person was a nice man, had a doctorate, was earnest, but could not do the job for which he was hired.
I asked both managers whether he could be trained, whether we had room elsewhere in the organization for him, or whether he should be terminated. The response was unanimous – he could not do the job. To keep him would not be good for him or the company.
What to do? We prepared a generous severance, went through the termination, and did a lot of soul-searching. What had gone wrong in the hiring process? What questions did we not ask of the candidate and the references? Why did his supervisor not address the issue immediately? Why did the next level of management no even know there was a problem? Why did I not ask regularly how the newly hired person was doing? Where was HR?
These were difficult questions, but questions that were required to avoid repetition of the incident.
Candor requires that we choose how best to frame our words so they are understood fully, and we need to be tactful in our frankness to minimize hurt, but we should never hesitate to speak truth and act upon it. Plain, unvarnished truth never requires a memory, and needs no regrets.
Some quotes from people wiser than I may help…
“If we are not ashamed to think it, we should not be ashamed to say it.”
-Marcus Tullius Cicero
“There is no diplomacy like candor.”
-Edward V. Lucas
“I am a firm believer in people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. They great point is to bring them the real facts.”
“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
“In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.”
Marc, you out did yourself today. Your story, especially the introspective questions you asked of yourselves are powerful, helpful, and challenging… sounds like the path to excellence!
You remind me that the issue isn’t mistakes but how we deal with them.
I am beginning to think Abraham Lincoln must have been THE modern man?
“I am a firm believer in people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. They great point is to bring them the real facts.”
I am not American but he certainly seems to stand out against the rest world wide, Jo
Most people live lives of quiet desperation.
They do not know who they are, they meet a person who doesn’t know who they really are, get married and wonder why they aren’t happy like the thought they were gonna be.
Then they get a job, think when I get this I will be happy, then they are surrounded by other people who do not really know themselves and round and round we go.
We are taught truth and meaning comes from outside ourselves memorizing make believe stuff. Sorry not happening. Hasn’t this been done long enough with not enough results to figure it out??????
So you want the truth? Can you handle the tooth? Hehe just my opinion by the way does not have to work for or make sense for anyone else but me to be validated in my own gut.
So bottoming out admitting complete defeat is a great thing. Then one can question everything and begin from scratch questioning the truth in everything. Truth test, works for all the same under all circumstances….ie oxygen and gravity both pass the test. Anything else doesn’t pass the truth test is just opinion. Yeah you ready for the truth?
Funny how lots if people think they are till what they like is questioned. Always easier to look other stuff besides oneself? Right? I get I am human too.
Anyway just a word to the wise. If you really don’t want the answer don’t ask the questions, just play pretend and get along like most do.
Ever wonder why some excel and others just make excuses? It is because the one who succeed are willing to do what the others won’t . That includes an honest assessment of themselves.
Just like my opinion man. Will say this, Dude can’t stay sober coming up on 29 years on the 22nd without living a life of rigorous honesty. Can’t be done.
Working for me believe it will work for you.
Oh yeah, there is no separation. Means you can’t be one person in your work life and another at work. Your life is an extension of who you are everywhere you go. First person you meet wherever you go is you.
Love how you indicate that hitting the bottom was the best thing that happened. Candor may help others find the bottom…we are most open when looking up from the bottom.. thanks Scott…
YW Dan and thanks for letting me share what has been my truth.
The post is full of nuggets. Developing candor is a powerful concept. Leaders contradicting their words through action may not create candor. Words create platform but action not supporting words weaken platform. Theoretically, it looks clear that leaders should meet their words to develop candor but practically, the situation differ from time to time. Many leaders while meeting their words assume that they create candor but they do not because they are perceived differently. Similarly, leaders not meeting words manipulate people with different reason, and people perceive them right. And they create candor. Though people come to know the reality later but initially leaders who are perceived fair create candor faster. In this way, I feel, creating candor is a matter of being perceived right. For this, leaders should appear right and fair. It is not enough to believe that you are right, instead, you should appear right.
I agree that characters, convictions and clarity are stepping stone to develop candor but appearing right and perceived right by others is also important.
Thanks for bringing a whole new angle to this topic…It’s true, candor, in order to be effective, requires consistency. Nailing it
All the best,
Bill Torrens, OCT Principal, Gatestone Elementary School
Sent from my iPad
Candor delivered in an honoring respectful way (kind) is paramount IF you want the relationship and the trust to be present. Otherwise you get tasks done well ONLY. Now if that’s all you want then place candor above honor with any angry person can do.
Thanks for your summary!
Thanks coach. The troubling thing about candor is it can be delivered with cruelty. No excuse for that. You bring an important component of the candor conversation.
I think it is good for people to get solid feedback on their performance, and that timely, accurate and complete data is one of the keys to improvement. On the other hand, accurate feedback can be used as a club to pound people needlessly.
Let’s say you get 98% of stuff done well. Do you ever hear about that, or do you hear only about the 2%? Do you focus on making improvements or avoiding errors?
For me, Mr. Welch lost ALL credibility as he questioned the employment numbers around the election. Is THAT how he worked at his former company? He was insistant that the numbers were cooked by the administration. Subsequent numbers sure make his outburst look pretty damn awful.
Da Vinci said, “The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”
Einstein said, “If A is success in life, then A = x + y + z. Work is x, play is y and z is keeping your mouth shut.” (said to Samuel J Woolf, Berlin, Summer 1929.
Is THAT the kind of leadership he is suggesting? Is that his “no-nonsense” approach?
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
(Lord Acton, in a letter to Mandell Creighton (5 April 1887)
Personally, I would just like to see Mr. Welch just go away…
I was wondering if you would ever come out of your shell, Scott. 🙂
I admire your candor.
I don’t know Jack personally, but love the ideas he consistently preaches in public…things like simplicity and candor. From the look of it, you hold to similar ideas.
Next time, I’d appreciate it if you tell me what you really think. But seriously, your comment is one of the reasons I love blogging.
BTW, the irony of the title is intentionally… many think Jack is cruel…
Well I have shared before I am a recovering person. I think I will make it to a week from Wednesday and if I do it will be 29 years. They don’t give anniversary chips, tokens whatever for 98% of 29 years.
If I was sitting in a train track and the train is coming I do not think I want to get 98% of me out of the tracks. If so what 2% of me I want run over? Foot, hand, head?
If I had cancer and was talking to the oncologist if 100% of the cancer could be removed and the doc I was talking to said he could get 98% but he was really a good guy….my response…thanks but where is the doc who will get 100% even though he might be a bit if an egotistical jerk on a personal level!!!!
How bout an it’s audit? Get to court and they asked me to explain and I say, “hey I paid 98% of my taxes, what’s the big deal”?
Henry Ford got his engine built by saying this is what I need, build it. Jobs built Apple stuff out of his imagination and got his techsters to figure it out.
So I am not 100% sure Visionaries when they are firm are just being jerks.
On the other hand I don’t think one needs to be a jerk to stick to their guns.
Interesting post Doc, did stir my imagination.
Thanks for that.
I’m glad your broached this subject. I, too, have little respect for Jack Welch. To me, he falls into a group with the likes of Chainsaw Al Dunlap . . . he managed great success with his tactics, by bullying and intimidating. Once. It IS true what he said about your employees knowing/not knowing where they stand. The essential part of this is HOW they know where they stand — and you touch on this in your comments. Do you beat them over the head for the 2% they didn’t do well? Or do you commend them for the 98%; and give them the support and motivation they need to improve on that 2%?
Scott and Dan –
I think that people CAN self correct and focus on improvement, but there IS an issue of “reality” that operates here. I remember being in a bank lobby in Phoenix waiting for a meeting with a senior person about a training project and looking at the company magazine. One short article showed the “Successful Closings” of individuals — did their cash drawer balance at the end of the day. Second place was held by a woman with 500-ish straight days. First place was held by a woman with over 3,000 days, as I recall.
One, closing perfectly is NOT a “Most Critical Performance Behavior,” it is just one that is easily measured and tracked. But can you imagine the pressure on the first place lady to ALWAYS DO IT RIGHT? Can you imagine how detail-oriented and careful she would be with each and every transaction and how paranoid if something were even slightly amiss? Would this focus on perfection actually translate to valuable behavior overall?
Another woman at Bell Telephone in Philly had 50 straight YEARS of perfect attendance. Can you imagine how many people she made ill by transmitting germs over some days in some years when she did have the flu or something?
I know this drifted a bit from simplicity, but feedback needs to be focused on important things and not just be that “constructive criticism” — is “constructive candor” a new oxymoron? “KInd Criticism?”
Simple is solid. Clear. Understandable. And generally actionable.
I am about Dis-Un-Engagement and the act of eliminating roadblocks to performance so that people CAN improve. Good performance feedback is a critical component of that. Candor? Fine well and good.
Another great post, Dan! I believe candor is very important. Reading some of the posts reminded me of a story I heard at a seminar once. I can’t remember their names in the story but I will ad-lib. —
John was the CEO of a marketing company and when he first came to the company he brought along Bob from his old firm…because he thought Bob would be a great person to share the success with.
Over the three years John noticed many things involving Bob he had not noticed at the other company. Bob was not the performer John believed him to be. John wished instead he would have brought Stan with him. Stan would have been a better man.
The thing about John is he never confronted Bob about his concerns until one day Bob had lost a large account and John was so angry that he then brought Bob into his office to let him go. He even went over and over in his head how he would let him go.
John started off angrily with,” Bob I really like you and that is why I brought you with me when I switched firms,but for three years you have been doing things wrong and I have overlooked them. I am going to have to let you go.
Bob sat there for a moment dazed and confused and finally said,” John ,with all do respect I just don’t understand what you are talking about. As you have said I have been doing things for three years this way. Why are you so upset? John said,” because they are just wrong and not the way we do business.
Bob looked at John again and said, ” a better question to you is why are you just telling me this now?
Then he followed it with–“You know John, you have done me a favor. I thought you were happy with my job performance. I got raises and bonuses over the last three years for doing a job wrong? I think I will have to screen my mentors better. One that can be candid , tell me why I am doing something a certain way is right or wrong and give me the opportunity to do it the right way. But to fire me after three years and be angry because you could not lead properly only makes ME angry! I am sorry John, I am going to have to let YOU go”. And then Bob walks out of John’s office and goes to his desk to gather his things.
At the end of the conversation John sat there in total disbelief. Did Bob just let HIM go? What went wrong here?
Moral of story is why do people let things go on without addressing them and then think it is Okay to be angry with a person. They have already led the person to believe that a certain type of behavior is acceptable. Who is wrong the leader or the follower? Leaders have to take responsibility for poor outcomes, when they fail to lead.
Great post and insights, Dan. And congrats on the access you’ve earned!
I think that developing candor in yourself takes a lot of courage and honor in combination. Believing that instead of projecting on to someone else… You are truly SEEING the situation for what it is. I think that having candor as a life coach is essential. Without it it’s likened to being authentically IN-authentic. Along with that paradigm are many bad habits to break. I think one needs to have a great sense of security in themselves to find candor! Candor exists for everyone. It’s one of those emotional tools that can be pulled out. It’s a choice. A lifestyle choice. Whether I follow a mentor or boss… I make the choices. I am 100% responsible for my life and the way I live it.
As always, a very good reflection!
Thank you Dan for bringing this issue to light….this is what we call good guy bad guy syndrome in our organisation. This is the virus that kills slowly, staff satisfaction.
Kind candor – I like that expression. I usually use compassion to describe the same thing. It’s compassionate to give an employee a hook to hang his hat on, something specific to focus on, than to let all linger.
Massaging the message … cannot tell you how many times I heard that phrase from a previous boss. He felt it was the only way to deliver a message … confusion reigned.
Awesome thought provoking post…not sure what I enjoyed more – the post or the responses! Thank you for being the conduit for personal growth. I often find pieces of myself in both the good and bad examples and appreciate the reflection so that I can do the hard work of improving myself first.
like your message today
might add then PRODUCTIVE.
Great to focus on the RIGHT THINGS Great to focus on the systems for DOING THINGS THE “RIGHT” WAY
best to focus on GETTING THINGS DONE.