They are a straight talker who tells it like it is!”
I hear that a lot these days and I certainly appreciate the sentiment.
Whether talking with a boss, a member of my team, or a client, I want people to tell me what I need to hear, not what they think I want to hear.
I want people to tell me what they really know, think, feel, and believe.
I want them to be honest.
I want them to be candid.
However, while I want them to be candid, I also want them to be tactful, informed, and accurate.
A person who is tactful without candor can be annoying at best, a sycophant at worst. Yet a person who is candid without tact is often little more than a jerk.
Unfortunately today, the word candor is frequently used to describe rudeness and ignorance. “They are a straight talker who tells it like it is,” has become code for, “I agree with their opinion” — regardless of whether that opinion is grounded in knowledge, experience, and fact.
The danger in crediting a jerk with being a “straight talker” is that we become the very yes-men we are implicitly decrying when we applaud those who “tell it like it is.”
One of the core principles of Communication-Based Leadership is enduring leadership success requires trust.
Trust must be earned.
To earn trust, one must be credible.
To be credible, one must ensure the things they say are consistent, the things they do are consistent, and the things they say and do are aligned.
To be credible, a leader must be timely, accurate, and transparent.
They must listen to and be respectful of others.
Yet trust cannot be mandated. It must be freely given.
So the next time we say we trust someone we’ve labeled a “straight talker who tells it like it is,” we should ask ourselves why we trust them.
Are the things they say and do consistent and aligned?
Do they express informed and accurate opinions?
Are they candid and tactful?
Are they credible?
Or did they merely spout an insult wrapped in generalizations that made us say, “Right on!”
A true straight-talker will tell it like it is.
A true straight-talker will speak truth to power.
A true straight talker will say hard things that need to be said.
But an uninformed or inexperienced person who spouts inaccuracies demonstrates their ignorance; a person who spouts insults is little more than a jerk; and those who give their trust to a jerk should anticipate getting jerked around.
Is someone a straight talker? Or just a jerk?
Before we cheer them on, we should think through the difference.
CEO at North of Center, LLC
Cliff holds a PhD in organization and management with a specialization in leadership. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he completed operational deployments to Fallujah, Iraq and Kandahar and Helmand, Afghanistan. He has led multi-national and inter-agency teams including approximately one year on loan from the Corps as Director of Policy, Planning, and Outreach for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. He also directly advised the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on public and media engagement regarding national security matters for two years as Special Assistant for Public Communication. Today he puts that experience to work helping people become the kind of leaders they would want to follow.