Written by Kevin O’Neill

Have you ever walked out of an “important” business meeting struck by the feeling that you just wasted an hour of time that you’ll never get back?

Maybe the frank conversation and the solutions to pressing business issues that eluded your team in the meeting are instead being discussed at the water cooler. Why? At worst, you may have a real credibility crisis on your hands. Or, more likely, you may have a serious productivity problem because your team keeps dancing around the important issues so as not to ruffle anyone’s feathers.

If you’re committing time to meetings and conversations that aren’t challenging a few organizational boundaries these days, you will not achieve the kind of breakthroughs your team is looking for or foster the kind of relationships that lead to innovation.

Every time you pull your team around the table there is opportunity – but only if we’re engaging with one another honestly and courageously. Anything less is a drain on our collective energy.

The truth in organizational life is that if we’re not part of the solution, we likely are part of the problem. Just consider the following symptoms:

  • You prefer to remain silent rather than deliver bad news you know will lead others to react negatively.
  • You use sarcasm to get your point across rather than be straightforward.
  • You tell people what to do instead of opening your own mind and perspective to new ideas.
  • You say “Yes” when you really, honestly mean “No.”

The choice is clear: Determine what you want to achieve and get to the point. Time is money, so don’t waste it.

If we don’t honestly face the issues that deplete business resources and sap colleagues’ energy, interest, and morale along with our own, we won’t ever move past analysis paralysis and get the right answer. Now, more than ever before, business demands straight talk because people have become utterly unaccustomed to it.

Often, we’re so focused on pleasing everyone – never wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings – that we lose sight of what’s most important and miss an important opportunity to demonstrate the leadership we need.

Honest communication – even when it makes us uncomfortable – is what mobilizes people around ideas, energy, and possibilities.

I’ve learned that lesson time and again. I can recall an important search assignment that led our client to two highly qualified executives and forced us into a tough decision about whether to simply “please” our client and deliver a smooth recruitment process or to take an unexpected path to the business result we knew was right in the long run.

On paper, the candidates we presented were both outstanding. In person, however, and during our search, our client’s preferred finalist – an individual to whom they wanted to make an offer – began to display some behaviors we felt would land rather flat with their organizational culture.

So I picked up the phone and suggested another, deeper look at the two finalists. I even suggested that a member of the company’s board come in to meet them in order to offer us a fresh perspective. By the end of that day, our client’s mind was made up. Our concerns about one of the candidates were confirmed, and the offer was presented to and accepted by the other.

Today, the leader we ultimately landed for our client continues to excel in this important role. He has contributed meaningfully and consistently to the company’s culture and financial performance--even the company’s share price is up. The Chief Executive Officer speaks very highly of him and has welcomed him as an important part of his team.

I learned an important lesson about straight talk from that search. It wasn’t easy making that call and challenging our client’s view, but it was the right thing to do and the only way to achieve a reliable and sustainable result. The alternative is to watch something come crashing down, knowing inside that you could have made a difference had you only spoken up.

If you believe in yourself enough to speak up when you see a better way of reaching a goal, it’s worth taking risks. So be direct, clear, and confident in your values and your communication. It’s time to unlock your potential.

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