By now, it is firmly established in the conventional wisdom that good leadership today is all about honesty, transparency, and even radical candor. Millennials value open and honest relationships with their bosses, so the thinking goes, and being an up-front and straightforward manager will make you more trustworthy, more respected, and ultimately more effective.
But Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer still believes “that the ability to lie convincingly may be the single most important management skill.” Writing at Fortune, Pfeffer argues that the virtues of deception are not to be discounted. Pointing to decades of research into the power of high expectations to improve performance, he stresses that leadership sometimes means convincing people that you have more faith in their abilities than you really do:
In many cases, for positive expectations to improve performance, leaders or teachers must deliver false or bogus information to the targets. If poor performers are going to improve because they are told they are expected to do great, leaders may have to say things they may not believe. …
Ever since Google director-turned-leadership-coach Kim Scott gave a presentation on her philosophy of “radical candor” at First Round’s latest CEO Summit, the notion of giving very direct, honest—even blunt—feedback has been on the rise. Scott, who is now writing a book on the subject, had an early encounter with the concept when she was new at Google and her then-boss Sheryl Sandberg told her after a meeting that frankly, her habit of saying “um” a lot made her sound stupid. Sandberg’s comment might have come off as harsh, but in Scott’s view, it was exactly the right thing to say: It got her attention and motivated her to correct the problem in a way that gentler feedback may not have.
Of course, Google isn’t the only company where such directness is valued. Amazon’s Anytime Feedback tool, which encourages direct criticism, was a highlight of the New York Times‘ controversial report criticizing the company, and Cisco VP of Global Executive Talent Cassandra Frangos writes in the Harvard Business Review that the IT giant’s executive assessment process is designed to deliver “brutally honest” feedback effectively. In today’s Wall Street Journal , Rachel Feintzeig looks at some other companies that are embracing the concept of radical candor: