The Entrepreneurial 2×4

Building a successful business requires human interaction at many levels. We’ve all seen the stereotypical entrepreneur who is moving fast and speaks in a short-clipped manner. He (or she) is the picture of efficiency and wastes little time in getting down to brass tacks. Sometimes this entrepreneur can be seen as brash and even a little bit arrogant. He (or she) often wears this description as a badge of honor. This might be a typical conversation with a member of the team. “Matthew, this is not your best work. It’s sloppy and totally misses the mark. You can and must do better. I’m very disappointed in you.” The entrepreneur might see this as brutal honesty. But is it productive?

Carol Burnett talks about her storied career in show business. She reminisces, “Back in the day, the men – Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar and Milton Berle – if they said: ‘Hey guys, this sketch sucks. Get with it! What’s the matter with you?” they were fine because they were guys. But if a woman did it, she would be labeled a bitch. So I tap-danced around it a lot.” Burnett went on to say, “If a sketch wasn’t working, I’d call the writers down to rehearsal and I’d say, ‘can you help us out here? I’m not saying this right. Maybe you could come up with a different line that would make it easier for me to get a laugh.’”

In his book, The Culture Code, author Daniel Coyle introduces a concept that makes a lot of sense for entrepreneurs to adopt. He contrasts Brutal Honesty with Warm Candor. Warm candor is the notion that we can still make our point – very clearly – without causing another person to feel small and unworthy. Feedback can be delivered without tearing down that person in a de-motivating manner.

How do we move toward a more “Carol Burnett-style” of offering warm candor and not be namby-pamby about the message we want to deliver? I believe it starts with our everyday personality. Are we generally positive and upbeat? Are we always looking for the good in every situation? Do we acknowledge others and give them pats-on-the-back when they are deserved? Or are we generally assaholics who are negative about everything and complain incessantly? Are we such perfectionists that nothing is ever right . . . and our team members know it?

If we embrace the positive personality previously described, candid conversations with members of our team can be very constructive. I rarely ever tell someone I’m “disappointed” in him or her. If I do use the term, it’s that I’m disappointed about something – but not in that person. There are other key words and phrases that are unnecessary. Attacking someone personally may seem like brutal honesty, but it’s just mean-spirited and serves no purpose. I’m not looking for a confrontation. I simply want to provide feedback that is factual and will help my team member do better next time. I try to communicate with empathy. If after multiple attempts to coach the individual on how to step-up and there is still no progress, then I have no problem starting the transition process for this team member to exit the organization. But there’s no reason that I can’t show a level of respect at all times that allows the team member to maintain his or her dignity.

Building strong and positive relationships with our co-workers and colleagues allows us to effectively use the “entrepreneurial two-by-four” of warm candor when warranted. Purity of intention is critical. We all know entrepreneurs who prefer to act like “bosses” and want to be seen as big shots. Their deployment of brutal honesty is not so much about team member growth as it is demonstrating their dominance. These so-called leaders do not understand the value of connection and creating an environment of safety. Their team members live in fear of being singled out and ridiculed. True leaders go the extra mile to create a nurturing culture that sees mistakes not as failure, but as unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life.

Honesty and candor are vital ingredients to the success of an entrepreneurial endeavor. Delivering them in an empathetic and constructive manner will seal the deal.

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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.