cliffIn his reality show, The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best
, Richard Branson challenged contestants to demonstrate their leadership skills while performing daring feats as a team. (This IS Branson we’re talking about. Of course it’ll be daring!). The winner would receive a check for $1 million and the opportunity to work at his company.

In one episode, he challenged contestants to squeeze into a wooden barrel — along with him — and float over the edge of Africa’s tallest waterfall. Together they would cascade the 354 foot drop into the water below.

One contestant said “I’m in!”

In the climactic moment just before the barrel was to be dropped over the cliff, with the contestant and Branson strapped inside, Branson said “We are not going to do this.  It ends here. If we went through this, we would be plummeting to our death.”

He explained that this was a test of the contestant’s ability as a leader to speak up and express concern about the risks.

As a leader, do you think people are only telling you what they think you want to hear?

Are they ignoring the facts that may be staring them in the face?

In What’s Needed Next: A Culture of Candor, James O’Toole and Warren Bennis describe the challenges that a lack of candor can have on the organization.

“It’s extraordinarily difficult for people lower in a hierarchy to tell higher-ups unpalatable truths—but that’s what the higher-ups need to know, because often their employees have access to information about problems that they don’t. Create the conditions for people to be courageous.”

Here are actions O’Toole and Bennis suggest.  Consider how you incorporate these habits into your daily routine:

1. Lead by example.  Tell the truth.

2. Encourage people to speak up.

3. Express appreciation to people for speaking up.

4. Practice having difficult conversations.

5. Seek a variety of sources for your information.

6. Admit your mistakes.

7. Build organizational support for transparency.

8. Share information freely.

I admit it.  Speaking candidly is easier said than done.  It’s similar to eating more green vegetables and exercising.  As a leader though, I strive for the relationship with my team that encourages honesty and openness.

We need to work on it – but the rewards in what we can accomplish together are well worth the occasional discomfort!

What improvements can you make to foster greater candor with your own team?