Hooray for Candor!

Image representing Carol Bartz as depicted in ...

Carol Bartz - Image via CrunchBase

There are some advantages to being at the organizational top.

People below you on the business pyramid are unfailing polite, things sometimes happen on a suggestion and not a request, furniture is nicer and pay is usually greater. Tones are hushed, the carpet is deeper, and pleasantries are often the order not just of the day, but the minute.

Candor – the quality of being frank, open and sincere – is often missing in action.

It’s too bad. Part of the reason it’s too bad is that the research regarding candor and transparency on teams and in organizations is that greater portions of both improve performance – smaller portions delay or degrade performance.

The reason?

When you’re candid and transparent there is no guessing game as to the “real” story; what you see is what you get. We’re all familiar with the cross cultural stories where saying “yes” in some cultures doesn’t mean you agree or that you’ll do what’s been asked. The “yes” is simply a way to avoid conflict. The results can be a disaster if the conflict isn’t surfaced.

It was with some admiration then that I read Carol Bartz’ announcement to Yahoo employees that she’d been sacked. Her email – which has drawn considerable comment in the press, read:

“To all,

I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.


Executive suites can sometimes be those places where – as the saying might go- seldom is heard a public discouraging word. When Sallie Krawcheck’s senior role at Bank of America (on the same day that Bartz was fired) the official note (see Business Insider: “Sallie Krawcheck Died Like a Man” ) quoted her as being “honored” to work with the bank. No “if my business unit performed well and others didn’t why am I gone and those other guys still here?

Apart from the way she was terminated – the Wall Street Journal headline read Bad Call: How to Not to Fire an Employee” – one of the unspoken rules is to never speak ill of how you’re treated as you are fired. But when that happens – sort of like the Harry Potter references to Voldemort as “you know who whose name we dare not speak” – it can be refreshing and clears the air and the deck to move forward.

Bartz as an exec was salty and profane and her business results – from Sun Microsystems and AutoDesk – were outstanding. She was clearly not loved by all and some of the comments she made post termination might have been shared in privated rather than public. But at least folks know where she stood – something refreshing in the land of spin and nuance and particularly when folks at Yahoo were told the cold truth about their lapsed performance as they’ve watched Google and Facebook pass them by.

There are lessons to be learned in the firings of Carol Bartz and Sallie Krawcheck, though I don’t know that I agree in principle with all of them.

One more though is that if you’re looking for real leadership effectiveness, candor counts.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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