Make Candor a Priority

by Judith Glaser

When Bayer, a $7 billion multinational pharmaceutical company, acquired a smaller $300 million diagnostic company, Rolf Classon the CEO, chose to call it a “merger.”

Power-with Others
He wanted to immediately establish a “power-with others” relationship with the new organization. I was part of a consulting team who facilitated a multi-day vision, values, and leadership session to help the leadership team create the new direction for the culture and the business.

“We are becoming one company,” Rolf told the top hundred people from both companies at their kickoff meeting. He went on to convey that he wanted to set new ground rules for working collaboratively in a new environment in which “together we can create something that never existed before.”

The executives discussed changes that needed to be made in the organization to maximize the new partnership. Then they broke into smaller teams to craft the new vision and values, with the intent of reporting their insights to the larger executive team.

When the executives reconvened, a spirit of trust and collaboration had clearly emerged. They had worked together to create a vision of shared success and in doing so released a new sense of hope for the future.   

Rolf once again stood before the group and asked, “How many of you have been through a visioning session before?” Everyone raised his or her hand.

“How many of you have left those sessions and returned to the workplace, only to find that nothing had changed?” Mostly everyone raised his or hand. He then declared, “For us to be successful as an organization, we need to realize that we can’t create the organization we want without making fundamental changes in ourselves.”

Candor Opens a New Door to the Future
As the event unfolded, something magical occurred. Rolf, by his example, taught the executives the true meaning of leadership. “Change begins inside each person. So I want to let you know that over the past few days I have been looking at what I’ve been doing to unknowingly prevent change from taking place.

“I’ve discovered at least sixteen things I want to change about myself! Here are my top three: my arrogance, my control, and my lack of trust.

“At lunch I want you each to think about what change means to you, and what you can do personally to inspire your own growth. After lunch I want to hear from my top executives — from the podium — expressing their personal insights.”

The CEO allowed himself to be as transparent and vulnerable as he had ever been in his life when he acknowledged the personal work he needed to do to make this merger a success. As he left behind his flaws so did the other executives, which made room for cooperation and partnership to grow.

Rolf continued his talk about the future. He engaged others in conversations about the “big challenges” and the “big picture.” The key was creating a shared context for change. By setting the stage in this way, he enabled others to find a common ground on which to build the future.  The Bayer merger became the most successful in the company’s history. 

Candor Unlocks Culture Change and Transformation in Organizations

Through our research and client projects over the past decade, we have identified that candor is the behavior that best predicts high performing teams and the single most important success factor in transformation and change. Organizations that exhibit high levels of candor produce the highest and most successful performing teams.

Here are 5 ways to elevate every day – and experience a release in the capacity to create and sustain change, growth and transformation: 

By setting the context for candor throughout all of your leadership interactions, you level the playing field. You set the tone for people to be candid with each other – and candor leader to trust. I trust you have my back – I trust your intentions – I trust you care. Power and hierarchy become less important than the results colleagues can create together through trust, honesty and teamwork. 

Neuro-tip: Candor, truth and trust
While the words – candor, trust and trust – are different, the meaning of these words activate the same networks in our brain. When we display the Prefrontal Cortex, our Executive Brain. This network opens the power of the Executive functions, such as strategic thinking, empathy, foresight, intuition, good judgment and handling uncertainty with less fear. So candor plays a role in elevating our capacity to work through difficult challenges with others – a core activity for change and transformation in organizations.

Candor is a door to tapping wisdom and for discovering new ways to handle the challenges we face when stakes are high and uncertainty abounds. As Rolf Classon discovered – by setting the stage for candor with his top 200 executives – he created a comfort zone for others in his team to lead with candor – elevating trust and the organizational potential for higher levels of personal, team and organizational success during the biggest transformation Bayer ever embarked upon.

CANDOR AND TRUST Are the Fabric of a Healthy Culture

Here are 5 things you can do, as a Leader of Change, to elevate candor and TRUST as the foundation for healthy conversations in your organization.

Success Factor #1: Elevate Candor and elevate Transparency and Trust 

Our brain is highly sensitive to reading signals of friend or foe as we interact. In .07 seconds we can tell if someone is telling us the truth and when they do we label them friend and our whole mindset reconfigures to allow us to engage more deeply. Being candid sends signal we will be open transparent in our conversations, and therefore we can trust each other to had our back. These decisions are built into our hardwiring and take place in Nano-seconds and elevate the quality of our conversations.

Success Factor #2: Elevate Candor and Deepen Relationships 

When we learn how to be candid with others, we engage at a deeper level of connectivity. Our brain radiates energy, and the energy of connection is more powerful than any other, yet we can’t access this unless we feel safe. Being candid and focusing our candor on enhancing our relationship – such as telling the truth about who we are, or helping build relationships before focusing on task – shows we value others and want to build on each others strengthens. These decisions take place in Nano-seconds and elevate the quality of our conversations and our relationships.

Success Factor #3: Elevate Candor and Deepen Understanding 

When we learn how to be candid, we are able to step into each other’s world, and understand each other’s perspectives rather than feeling we need to defend our own. The need to be right is and addiction which gets stronger when we are uncertain of where we stand. When we learn to deepen our connectivity by focusing on understanding others intentions, dreams, and aspirations – we communicate we have their best interest at heart. Our Prefrontal Cortex and Heart connection actually strengthen physiologically – and the quality of our conversations escalates – magnifying our ability to achieve greater results with others.

Success Factor #4: Elevate Candor and Build Shared Success 

When we learn how to be candid, we are able to spend more time exploring what success looks like with others – not just my success – our shared success. Rather than focusing on ‘my needs’ – I am able to build a new world view that combines yours and mine in ways we would never have thought about it before. We know that our Executive Brain – our Prefrontal Cortex – has the capacity to literally build holograms of the future – when we are open enough to access this human capacity – we join our best thinking into one new world view with Shared Success as the outcome. 

Success Factor #5: Elevate Candor and Elevate Courage to tell the truth 

When we learn how to be candid, we elevate our courage to step up, and speak out. Human beings need to share what is on their mind. When we mask the truth, or avoid the truth, or when we avoid difficult conversations our body chemistry shifts. The word disease is ‘dis-ease’ and it’s a chemical discomfort that blocks the vital instincts for growth. Finding ways to be candid and caring at the same creates the healthy space for truth telling while strengthening relationships with others.

Candor is One Act that Changes Everything

Learning to have healthy conversations is the most fundamental and vital skills of a transformational leader. As Rolf Classon learned when he stepped up and stepped out of his own fear, and stepped forward to connect with his team through candor. Make candor a priority and open the door to business success.  On some levels, we human beings are very simple. We turn to those who make us feel good and we turn away from those who make us feel bad. Finding comfort from people who care about us is a healthy strategy. Learning to down-regulate fear at work and up-regulate the factors that stimulate growth is a winning strategy for success is a game changer.


Judith GlaserJudith E. Glaser is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and the Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is the author of the best selling book, “Conversational Intelligence” (Bibliomotion, 2013), an Organizational Anthropologist and a consultant to Fortune 500 companies.Visit her at creatingwe.com; conversationalintelligence.com or contact her at jeglaser@creatingwe.com. Follow Judith on Twitter @CreatingWE or connect with her on Facebook.