Kiss the Fool
Court jesters occasionally spoke truths and delivered bad news with humor. Modern comedians often make us laugh about injustice or social ills.
Kiss the fool who speaks the truth.
The more authority you possess, the more lies you hear.
The words leaders most need to hear are least likely to be said.
3 reasons team members lie to leaders:
- Speaking the truth reveals their own mistakes. Most people don’t relish making themselves look bad. Sometimes the person who needs to deliver bad news is the person who caused it.
- Immature responses from leaders.
- Blowing up.
- Making excuses.
- Organizational culture pressures people to pretend they have it all together. Sadly, ‘professionalism’ is often a game of fakery that everyone secretly conspires to play. Only losers step outside the box.
An exercise in candor:
This morning I’m planning a ‘candor building exercise’ that I’ve never done with a team.
Exercise goal: lower barriers and elevate candor
- Pair up with a colleague. (About 16 people will participate.)
- Tell your partner something you aren’t good at. “I’m not good at….”
- Be real.
- Don’t humblebrag, “I’m not good at taking time off.”
- Partner response, “I agree with you. You aren’t good at ….” Don’t comfort or disaffirm.
- Reverse roles.
- Next, ask, “What else are you not good at?”
- Listen, affirm, and restate.
- Conclude by saying to each other, “Thank you for your candor.”
- What did you hear that you didn’t already know?
- How might you use this exercise with individuals you coach?
- What concerns about this exercise do you have?
- How might we address the issue of feeling like a fraud when trying on new behaviors?
- How might the exercise be improved?
How might leaders lower barriers and build authentic connections with team members?
Fascinating exercise! Please let us know how it turns out.
BTW, you may want to fix the double negative in Exercise Goal #5.
Thanks Michael. I’ll be leading it in a few minutes. I’ll let you know.
Thanks for the double negative comment. I think it’s fixed now.
Here are few ubiquitous things that average fool are not good at (including myself in the past): “I am afraid of FEAR and have become dysfunctional”, “I do not speak up about obvious injustice in the workplace”, “I like to play it safe and not do anything that will make me look bad”, “I’ve stopped really trying and I’m comfortable doing the bare minimum as I float down the river STATUS QUO”. Oh there are many more … rip the bandaid off! Expose all your cuts and bruises for all to see. Airing them out will help you heal faster. Ignoring them will only make you fester and rot your soul out before you know it.
Thanks Michael. “Rip the bandaid off.” That’s powerful. You really nailed the reason this matters. If we don’t elevate candor the status quo takes hold. Cheers
I am going to try this at my next staff meeting. Another reason for trying it is that real progress can’t be made on issues until we can have difficult conversations. One trick will be creating the environment where it is “safe” to confess what we are bad at. Any thoughts on that environment?
This could also test the amount of trust on a team and/or the safety of the environment?
Thank you for YOUR candor. This is a topic that most will not address and fewer would attempt to solve. Why can’t we all be honest with each other? No one is good at EVERYTHING!
That is why highly functioning teams work; they make the best use of the everyone’s strengths which minimizes everyone’s inevitable and certain weaknesses.
Embrace the “suck” and move forward.
Leaders take heed – you can gain the trust of your team with honesty, humility, and acknowledgment that you are human. It’s all about our aversion to vulnerability, isn’t it?
Here is a great quote I came across today from a writer named Criss Jami. I’ve never read any of his writings but this was too good not to share:
“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”
Yes, and…… what’s the “part 2” of this exercise? How do you get from acknowledging what you’re not good at, to moving forward with strength? I’m sold on the value of vulnerability, but my challenge is in finding ways to affirm those things I “am” good at – my list of things I’m not good at could go on for hours, and I can’t quite see how having others affirm how ‘not good at’ I am would be helpful, either to me or the team.
Was part of a senior management team (coincidentally 16) who incorporated this exercise for a full day within a 4 day leadership seminar. A moderator spent about an hour setting the tone of full candor; that all have strengths and weaknesses and true leaders are courageous enough to acknowledge. Starting with the CEO, he shared his view of a personal strength and weakness. Then we went around the circle stating a prominent strength/behavior we appreciated and admired about him. 2nd time around stating a weakness/behavior we’ve observed or didn’t appreciate. We did this for every member, holding ourselves accountable for high candor. The experience enriched our relationships, each worked to personally improve, subsequently cascading a culture of improvement to our teams. The process was a bit uncomfortable for most but quite rewarding.
I was part of that candor building exercise and it took me back to being a kid – where you had to do something that you really didn’t want to do. That’s how it felt, totally uncomfortable. I had to tell my partner that he wasn’t good at listening. Yuck. But afterward…we were both still alive and breathing. It actually wasn’t that bad.
The power of this exercise is for the coach. For me, it’s a habit to soften what needs to be said or ignore it all together. But how does that help? The real work starts when we acknowledge what is there and ask questions like, “what does good listening look like?” and “what’s something that you could try to help you improve?”
As always, thanks Dan, you’re amazing.
Candor and forthright are words much like the words stubborn and tenacious; depends somewhat on who is saying the word. When using them, am I speaking about myself, or am I speaking about a team member? I am interested in learning what the sustainable results are after a few months. Sometimes it is easier to act a certain way than to be a certain way. I relate to Nick’s comment regarding, “True leaders are courageous enough to acknowledge,” that all of us have both strengths and weaknesses. Selection of team members who possess critical skills for achieving excellence will most often determine the level of success.
Socrates and “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.” Confucius said something very similar. By admitting our faults and weaknesses, we take the first step in rectifying them. And by doing this in the open, you’re opening yourself up to accountability and support / help. Avoiding our weaknesses or keeping them hidden only ensures that we stay committed to not improving.
Would love to hear about how the exercise goes! Sounds like it will help a lot of people take a necessary step to being better.
“Don’t humblebrag”! Love that term.
I’m leading four internal masterminds with the text, “Crucial Conversations.” We’re working to “rip the band aid off” of pretending we have a “safe” environment whereby “candor” can exist to keep moving us towards growth and our common purpose. Our discussions have been rich as we focus on elements very similar to the exercise you’ve mentioned. We have a long way to go but the head way has been refreshing, eye opening, and transforming. We may implement some similar real life lab work like the exercise.
A great subject and feedback by everyone. Insightful.
On the theme of the tennis ball too – Chinese proverb “Develop your weaknesses and you will become strong, develop your strengths and you will become unique”.
Now that you have identified what people are not good at – how will you translate that to speaking up safely to leadership?
To me, creating a process that is done regularly – like an after action review – would go far to open up conversation and of course if the leader hears it and runs with it, make it part of the culture.