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How often do you tell a lie? Chances are it’s not very often — at least not a lie that could harm someone. But how often do you fail to be honest with your spouse, employees, clients and perhaps most importantly, yourself? This is probably a little harder to quantify, because we do it all the time, whether it’s pasting on a smile to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, telling a client about only the best parts of your service or lying to yourself that you’ll do something later when you have no genuine intention of doing it.
In my journey of leadership growth, I’ve discovered that although these little white lies might seem helpful at the moment, they sometimes do more harm than good. Once I was honest with myself about it, I realized I needed an alternative to telling little white lies. So what’s the solution? Radical honesty. It is a practice that challenges you to be honest in everything you do, with yourself and with others.
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When I first read about radical honesty in Brad Blanton’s book, I struggled with it. But I learned that being radically honest doesn’t mean that you’re brutally honest. You can tell the truth without being hurtful to others.
Approaching every situation with radical honesty can help you become a better leader who’s known for your integrity and transform your business. Here are five ways to practice radical honesty in your leadership strategy.
1. Make clearer judgments by separating observations from thoughts
Honesty begins with observation. A simple exercise is to observe your physical sensations, your surroundings and your thoughts, then state what you’re observing aloud. Don’t make judgments about what you notice — allow these observations to be neutral.
This exercise aims to help you learn to differentiate what you notice from what you think or feel about it. This helps you recognize your own biases and helps you view your experiences with a more objective lens. As you begin to understand yourself better by learning more about how you react to various situations, thoughts and feelings, you can use this information to think more clearly and make better judgments as a leader based on the truth rather than on your feelings in the moment.
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2. Own your truth to learn and grow
Be honest with yourself first. Where are you lying to yourself? Learning to separate what you notice from your thoughts is critical to discovering your truth. For example, when you look in the mirror, you might tell yourself several lies based on your reaction to what you see. Maybe you’re lying to yourself that you’ll go to the gym tomorrow, or maybe you think that everyone will notice that one flaw you’re particularly insecure about. Internally, maybe you’re pretending to be someone different. What aspects of yourself have you suppressed, and are those areas where you can grow? We use lies to construct all sorts of narratives around ourselves, and regardless of if those lies make us feel better or worse, they allow us to deny the truth of who we are.
When you discover a lie you’ve been telling yourself, confront it and learn from it. Owning your truth will allow you to see areas where you need to grow and also help you recognize your strengths as a person and a business leader. This leads to living with more authenticity. To be the happiest, best versions of ourselves, we must be authentic to who we are.
3. Encourage honesty among your team
Radical honesty is more than just being honest with yourself — you must also be honest with others. The best place to start is to share your truth: Admit to your mistakes. Be honest about what you’re proud of. Be more authentic in who you are in a variety of situations. Don’t keep secrets, especially from important people like your family and your key team members.
Being open and honest within your business will set an example through leadership that will encourage others to also practice honesty. Creating an environment where people can be honest and authentic without fear of judgment is valuable for solid teamwork, problem-solving, conflict resolution and building trust. We’ve created a no-blame environment at our company. Building that culture begins with you — the leader.
Practice honesty in every part of your leadership. Be open with your team about your management decisions and business performance, and take their feedback and ideas openly. When you have a conflict with someone, tell them in a kind and honest way what’s causing the problem. Focus on the problem and not the person. Find a resolution through clarity and kindness.
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4. Find solutions more quickly
Radical honesty is a powerful tool in the workplace for solving problems and resolving conflict. Of course, honesty must also be approached tactfully to avoid hurting the feelings of the individuals involved, but you can avoid a significant amount of miscommunication through radical honesty. It allows you to give kind and constructive feedback to others and directly address problems.
Honesty during interpersonal conflicts can be particularly helpful — it ensures clear communication and keeps everyone involved from misinterpreting others’ feelings, thoughts or intentions. When you have a culture of honesty and authenticity where team members are unafraid of judgment, you allow room for better communication and conflict resolution.
5. Establish trust with others
Radical honesty goes a long way to establishing trust with your team, friends, family, clients and shareholders. Nobody wants to be deceived, and demonstrating that you’re willing to share even when you mess up will make people more willing to work with you in the future because they know that you have integrity.
Being honest about both positives and negatives lets people know you are trustworthy and helps build rapport. For example, if you know you’re not the best fit for a client’s needs, referring them to a better fit will ensure they remember you as a trustworthy businessperson, and they might send their friends your way in the future.
When radical honesty might not be beneficial as a leader
Radical honesty can be a powerful tool for both personal and leadership growth, but it’s important to carefully consider when it is and isn’t appropriate to be radically honest. You want to foster a positive environment where you and your team can be authentic and open. Being honest doesn’t require you to share your every thought or opinion. Sometimes it’s best not to share what you’re thinking if it isn’t productive, could be hurtful or is fueled by your negative emotions in the moment.
Related: How to Give Feedback Without Hurting Anyone’s Feelings
As a business leader, your responsibility goes beyond achieving financial success. Creating a culture of radical honesty can lead to a more cohesive team, better communication and improved decision-making. Start by being honest with yourself and encouraging honesty among your team. Learn to separate your thoughts from observations and confront the lies you tell yourself. Practice honesty in every aspect of your leadership, including feedback and conflict resolution. Establishing trust with others is a key benefit of radical honesty, which can lead to more opportunities for growth and success. Be the best version of yourself: Take the first step today and commit to being radically honest in all your interactions.