As a leader, have you ever avoided confrontation with a follower for what you labelled “good” reasons? I think most of us have. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we sometimes give in to this temptation.

Why do we do that? I believe the main reason well-intentioned leaders aren’t completely honest with their people is that they don’t see how they can be candid and caring at the same time.

Care and candor do not have to be mutually exclusive. Deep down, we all want someone in our lives who is willing to tell us the truth that would help us, even if it hurts at the time. It’s like when a surgeon operates on you – it may hurt, but it doesn’t harm you. Its purpose is to heal. The doctor’s intention is to help you.

Part of a leader’s job is to value not only the person, but also their potential – and to do what is necessary to help the person achieve it. That means being honest, but doing it in a way that builds people, not that tears them down.

So how do we balance caring and candor? First of all, we need to recognize that caring has to come first. People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. By establishing a relationship first, you qualify yourself to speak truth into their lives, even when it may hurt.

Second, we need to ask ourselves some important questions as we approach the situation:

  • Have I invested in the relationship enough to be candid?
  • Do I truly value them as individuals?
  • Am I sure this is their issue and not mine?
  • Am I sure I’m not speaking up because I feel threatened?
  • Do I consider the relationship more important than the issue?
  • Does this conversation clearly serve their interests and not just mine?
  • Am I willing to invest time and energy to help them change?
  • Am I willing to show them how to do something, not just say what’s wrong?
  • Am I willing and able to set clear, specific expectations?

When you’ve decided to confront an issue and speak candidly to a follower, here are the four rules for caring candor:

  1. Do it quickly. Never allow an issue to fester.
  2. Do it calmly. If you’re angry, you will not be caring enough.
  3. Do it privately. It’s never helpful to humiliate another person.
  4. Do it thoughtfully. Work to avoid embarrassment or intimidation.

Caring establishes the relationship between a leader and a follower, but candor expands the relationship. Once a relationship has been established on a foundation of caring it needs to grow. That requires candor. By balancing care and candor, you can do what you need to get done, and at the same time help the people you lead to grow toward their greater potential.

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