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Needed: A Culture of Candor

If candor was a commodity, being in short supply, it would be valuable.

What is the difference between someone being "candid" and those who "say they are 'telling it like it is' but then not really. They are bomb throwers...looking for attention, etc. Versus, having a culture of candor where mistakes can be pointed out and then everyone together looks for a solution. No fingering people out to place blame, but focusing on fixing the issue.

What is described below is rare—I think. Not evident in most organizations. Sweep it under the rug. Kick the can down the road. Don't make waves. Hope nothing happens—on your watch.

Let's take the current Debt Ceiling issue out of the picture, and just look to address the status of Social Security funding. One item I heard today is that the fund will not be able to meet all its obligations in about eight years. What are we doing about that "today" or like in everything else these days, bridges and social programs we only address it as a "Fix on Failure" strategy.

Everyone knows there is an issue with inadequate revenues to meet obligations. We also know that Congress over the years when the fund was much larger raided the fund to pay for other programs or obligations.

There's a problem, everyone knows it—no one is working to fix it. That is a lack of candor and initiative. See the opinion piece below:

A Culture of Candor

Carly Fiorina

June 2, 2022

I deeply believe that one of a leader’s most important roles is to see, speak and act on the truth. So often, a bad situation becomes much, much worse because leaders’ will not “tell it like it is,” and rather than making decisions based on reality, they engage in wishful thinking. And then, when things continue to go badly, rather than taking accountability and course-correcting, those in charge will blame someone or something else.

True leaders know they must be clear-eyed, candid, and accountable. When something goes wrong, they must acknowledge it, take responsibility, and take the appropriate corrective measures. A leader cannot do this all alone, however. No individual leader can know everything, see everything or think of everything. And so, the best leaders recognize that role-modeling candid, accountable behavior is necessary but not sufficient.

High-performing teams and organizations are self-correcting. They have cultures where candor and accountability are expected and rewarded. Most problems can be foreseen if people heed warning signs. Most mistakes can be corrected if they are identified early. In the highest-functioning teams, people are accountable for identifying issues early and speaking up so they can be addressed. “See the truth, speak the truth, act on the truth” is woven into the fabric of operations.

Perhaps this sounds obvious. Experience tells us it’s not. Pick any well-known fraud, failure, or crisis: the collapse of Enron; the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; lead-tainted water in Flint, Michigan; gas explosions in California; Bernie Madoff; WeWork; the Oxycontin scandal; Roger Ailes or Matt Lauer. In every single case, warning signs had been there for a long time. People knew something could go, eventually would go, terribly wrong. And yet, the expectation to “see the truth, speak the truth and act on the truth” did not exist. Too often in organizations compliance is rewarded and candor is discouraged. “Stay in your lane,” “don’t rock the boat,” “don’t be a trouble-maker,” and “no one else is talking about this, why are you?” are everyday signals in too many organizations.

To avoid big mistakes, big crises, and big collapses, leaders need to build cultures where people are rewarded for routinely exposing troublesome issues, smaller mistakes, and less-costly problems - then held accountable for fixing them. A leader or a team that rewards candor and expects accountability engages in frequent self-examination; isn’t afraid of difficult or uncomfortable conversation, and never runs away from accepting ownership.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.