Courageous Honesty: Being willing to objectively observe the current reality, listen to those around you, then kindly and directly speak your truth.

This is my definition of “courageous honesty.” Through painful experience, I’ve come to realize that our unwillingness to be courageously honest with ourselves and others is at the core of almost every workplace problem.

Business is all about human interactions. My experiences with tough contract and human resource issues taught me that if leaders don’t take the lead in modeling courageous honesty, the business just doesn’t work the way it should.

I know what you’re probably thinking. Easier said than done, right? Start by making sure you’re following these three rules. The last one is the toughest one to get right.

  • Be courageously honest with yourself. Self-delusion is the biggest obstacle we face. Learn to recognize yes-men and yes-women and make sure you aren’t surrounded by them.
  • Listen to your employees, then have the courage to implement your decision even though some people won’t like it.
    Be kind, but DON’T be nice.
  • Kind individuals avoid losing their temper and gossiping. When they fail in that effort (as all humans do from time to time), they apologize.

“Nice” individuals say whatever they think is necessary to avoid uncomfortable situations. Nice people are the ones who say something like: “I don’t really want to do this, but [the board/HR/the boss] insists.” Nice people avoid tough discussions during annual employment reviews and don’t fire anyone unless things get really bad. Nominal leaders who just want to be “nice” end up dealing with low morale from their top performers because a few hard workers are pulling the weight for an entire team.

Keep these rules in mind the next time you’re facing a particularly challenging legal or HR issue. Some situations are tough and can’t be avoided, but approaching them with courageous honesty is the best thing you can do for yourself and for your team.