Candour And Organisational Culture

Being direct, challenging others, and saying what you think is only part of the equation. How you do this is another aspect.

I want to focus on the specific area of candour in leadership teams. My view is candor amongst leaders is the litmus test in discerning transparency, openness, and collaboration in an organisation’s culture. 

What is candour?

Candour constitutes the capacity to speak up collegiality, plainly, respectfully and relevantly. It is being able to express your original thinking within your leadership team, in ways that others can “receive” what you are bringing forward, even when what you are saying goes against cultural conserves, other’s views, and includes bringing forward “the elephant in the room”.

There are two parts to candor:

One is speaking candidly and the second is the consequences of speaking candidly.


Speaking candidly is the opposite of being direct, analysing, “blurting something out”, wanting things to be different or trying to change someone else’s behaviour. Candour is letting others know your thoughts, tentative ideas and your experience.

Frequently I meet senior leaders who criticise the culture in their leadership teams and organisations. “Our leadership team culture is poisonous”, says one. “What is happening?” I ask. “The IT (read sales, finance, ops or corporate services) manager is driving in a direction none of us other GMs want”, says another. How come none of you speak up I wonder to myself. “I think the CEO approves of what is happening, although he isn’t saying so”, says a third. 

Hearing this, I have at least two thoughts. The idealist in me wonders who this GM thinks is responsible for creating culture if it is not the leaders themselves. But the realist consultant in me, noticing when people do not speak up, begins an investigation by asking myself questions. Is the capacity to speak up and stay in relationship with others underdeveloped in the individual or in the group as a whole, or are the consequences of speaking up too risky in this organisation?

If I conclude that candour or assertiveness is lacking, I might embark on a coaching path with that individual. If I conclude that the person is well able to speak up in other contexts save this one, I might make a start on discussing the risks of so doing within this leadership team meeting. This inquiry is in itself is a perilous journey for any consultant, since the consultant cannot take away these risks and make people’s working lives safe from power and its abuses.

Ideally, being a senior leader means you are willing to air concerns when your view is different from others, including the CEO’s. Of course, speaking up is risky. You may not be listened to, liked, or backed up by anyone else. You may end up standing alone. However, one key in being candid is being able to bring forward your ideas, concerns, and experience and do this in a way you stay in relationship with those around you. Being critical or noticing what is wrong, or identifying what isn’t working in an organisation is easy. Opening up a discussion, finding what others are thinking, and coming to a shared resolution is more complex and challenging and that is the work of leadership teams.

Ensure you and your team are having the conversations you want to have with the people you want to have them with, contact me.

© Diana Jones

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