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Monday, February 13, 2006

Candor and Greatness

It always seems ironic to me when something new gets published that links telling the truth to being successful. Surprise! People – that is, employees, customers, anybody -- respond really well when you tell them like it is, including the stuff that’s not so great. They’ll work twice as hard and come up with amazing business-growing ideas if you are real and candid and involve them.

This month’s cover story in Inc. magazine features an excerpt of Bo Burlingham’s new book, “Small Giants: Companies that Choose to Be Great Instead of Big.” Too bad it seems to be one or other.

Must it? No, but it takes a special breed of leader to adopt the straight talk, open books, inclusive MO that inspires and motivates employees beyond all other incentives. I know this philosophy works from my firsthand experience years ago working for Jim Mullen, founder of Mullen advertising (now part of communications conglomerate Interpublic.) (I think Inc. was a Mullen client for awhile, as Jim and Bernie Goldhirsch were close acquaintances.)

Way back in the days of acetate overheads, Jim was opening the books and showing us what we spent on paper clips and how profit sharing – which every employee participated in -- was trending for the quarter. We all went back to work knowing exactly what we needed to do to fix something or create something, and we knew how we would personally benefit. The agency was consistently and highly profitable and earned a reputation for strong values, great work and a ferociously loyal workforce. (His book, “The Simple Art of Greatness” -- out of print but available from Amazon -- would make a good companion to “Small Giants”.)

There’s no question, it’s harder – at least in the beginning – to say it like it is. But the good news is, you can start in small ways. As you look at the next speech, employee update, press release or call center script , see if there isn’t a way to say what you need to say with a little more candor, and like you really mean it. Watch what happens. I’m guessing you’ll do it again. (Imagine what might happen if our politicians started behaving this way…)

This post from Janet Swaysland


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