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Conscious Leadership Series #5: Speaking Candidly


Welcome back to my series on Conscious Leadership! In this series, I'm going to summarize some key principles from a book I read earlier this year: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp. With this series, I hope to shed some light on the fast moving trend that is Conscious Leadership, and explain why you should consider integrating these 15 commitments into your existing leadership style or lifestyle, in general. 

Here, in Part 5 of the series, we are going to take a look at the fourth Commitment of Conscious Leadership: Living Candidly.

conscious leadership book cover

COMMITMENT FOUR: Living Candidly

In Part 1 of this series we described the notion of Leading Above the Line or Leading Below the Line. The simple question leaders can ask themselves to determine how Consciously they are Leading is "am I leading below the line or above the line?"

For Commitment # 4: Living Candidly, the difference between leading above the line versus leading below the line is as follows:

Above the Line: I commit to saying what is true for me and being a person to whom others can express themselves with candor.

Below the Line: I commit to withholding my truth and not listening to the other person.

Concealing vs. Revealing

Be Honest...seems like an obvious and simple rule to live by, but for most of us it isn't always that clear-cut. Many leaders tend to withhold, which is refraining to reveal everything to all relevant parties, whether it's because we don't want to hurt other people's feelings, we wish to avoid conflict, or otherwise. Here are some examples of withholding:

  1. Withholding Facts....I found an error in the spreadsheet I made. It's too late to correct it and I am afraid my boss will be angry if I confess.
  2. Withholding Thoughts...In my opinion this merger is a huge Mistake.
  3. Withholding Feelings....I feel angry that my boss showed up late to our meeting.

Withholding has many negative effects, including energy depletion, dampening of healthy culture and employee engagement, and relational disconnection. At any moment in time, individuals and leaders are either revealing or concealing. Let's take a look at the differences in these approaches below.

different honesty approaches visual


Above, you can see what a typical Concealing cycle looks like. Beginning with Withholding, then withdrawing, and finally projection. In relationships we develop judgments, beliefs, and perspectives about other people and about situations. People do things that we label good or bad, they do things we like or don't like.

When we are leading below the line, we develop these judgements, believe them as RIGHT, and withhold them from the person we have judged. Withholding always leads to withdrawing, which means pulling away from the other person or situation. We, even if ever so slightly, decrease our engagement with the situation or with the person we are judging. This withdraw leads to projection, which is viewing the person or situation in the lens of your judgement as if it were 100% true. You begin to seek proof of your judgments, which distorts your reality.

For example, if I think my coworker is dishonest, I will psychologically pay more attention to any actions that may support this belief and be less likely to notice anything that may discount my judgements. This is the vicious cycle of relational disconnection that many companies face due to the prevalent problem of not living candidly. 


On the other hand, we have the alternative of Revealing, which leads to connection and then ownership! People who lead above the line realize the mind generates all kinds of judgements about people and situations and do not view these judgements as RIGHT. Rather, they see these judgements as thoughts that are simply arising in oneself.

Our judgements often tell us a lot more about ourselves than the person whom we are projecting them onto. They typically reveal something about our own beliefs, listening filters, or expectations. Thinking of the mind as a projector and the world as a screen, sometimes we'd rather project onto the world, attributing our behaviors and thoughts onto others, than face our own reality. This leads to major distortions of reality and so we must learn to recognize these projections.

Conscious leaders reveal their judgements to others in order to truly connect with them. When you choose to reveal, you are choosing to connect. The reasoning behind revealing is to make ourselves known, not to be RIGHT or change the other person--we are revealing our thoughts and feelings, telling the other person about ourselves rather than about them, which creates a connected relationship with that person rather than one in which you withdraw from. This process of revealing and connecting leads to ownership!

In disconnected relationships we project our internal experience onto others. In conscious relationships we take ownership of those thoughts and judgements as our own. When we notice a judgement we can turn it into curiosity, a learning moment for ourselves, turning our judgements around on ourselves and digging into what that says about us instead of projecting it onto others.

Source: http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/how-honest-are-you-and-your-school/

Living with Candor

To develop a connected relationship with someone, to live with candor, one must focus on three factors - openness, truthfulness, and awareness. While truthfulness is simply being honest and accurate about what we are thinking or feeling, openness addresses how much you reveal. You can be truthful while at the same time holding back information. Be sure that you are evaluating your level of openness and try to keep it at an appropriate and honest level.

Awareness is the third factor of living candidly and this has everything to do with self-awareness. Not only does this include awareness on dealing with moments of projection or judgements but also being aware of the facts of your reality. If you think you got to work around 9:30 but really aren't sure, then you cannot be completely candid when your boss asks about it. This lack of ability to be candid can be fixed by being more self-aware in what is true for you.

Now, how do we go about telling people your thoughts, judgements, and feelings without ruffling feathers? One important note is that you can only really attempt to be candid with someone who shares the commitment of having a connected relationship and who wants to live consciously. Many people who have not yet taken this commitment would likely be defensive and we suggest being very careful with what you say to others. If you desire to start being candid with someone, we suggest you have an honest discussion with that person so that you both can work on being more revealing instead of concealing. 

One major lesson in revealing and being honest is to speak unarguably. Remember that leaders who lead below the line are typically interested in being right and view themselves as a victim, villain, or hero – focusing on arguable statements such as "This morning's incident was Amy's fault!" or "We need to get a new printer". These statements are arguable in the sense that the truthfulness of these statements can be debated.

Conscious leaders practice expressing themselves with statements that are unarguable, such as "I am having the thought that we need a new printer" or "I had the judgment that Amy is to blame for this morning's incident". Since you are merely reporting the fact that you had a thought or judgment, these statements are unarguable. Here are three example forms of unarguable statements:

  • I'm having the thought that...
  • I feel [angry, sad, excited,] about....
  • I made the judgement that....

Often expressing yourself with unarguable statements will end drama on the spot.

Conscious Listening

Another branch of living candidly is not only revealing your truth, but listening to other people's truth and being someone to whom others can express themselves with candor. We all have internal filters that influence what we hear and how we respond. We often translate a statement and give it additional meaning. For example, many people listen to fix (I am super guilty of this, myself!). This is where you listen with the intent to fix, whereas often times the person talking to you wasn't looking for a fix, and often feels their emotions and desires are missed.

Other filters include someone who loves to diagnose ("Oh, the problem with that is..."), people who love to correct ("This isn't really an issue with that, it's an issue with this!"), those who avoid conflict ("I'm sure everything will be fine"), those who defend ("Are you suggesting I should have done something different?"), and those who over-personalize ("I have been through that before. This is what I did.").

As long as these filters are being used, you are neither connecting nor understanding the true expression of the other person. In order to let go of filters you must be fully present while listening to the other person, being aware of when your filters start to crank, and shifting your attention back to the speaker over and over. This is similar to meditation where we must observe our frequently arising thoughts while remaining focused on our present moment. Here are two great ways to foster effective listening:

  1. Mirror the other person -
    1. Repeat back the words and beliefs you hear the other person expressing. Get confirmation you understand correctly and that you are not projecting your own understanding or filters onto them.
    2. Reflect back the emotions you feel from the other person, either directly or indirectly. Doing this helps the other person contact their most authentic feelings and gives you a better understanding of what they're expressing and the intent behind the expression.
  2. Get Continuous Feedback - Ask others how comfortable they feel in expressing themselves to you. This is a great indicator of how much you may or may not be consciously listening (Do they notice you projecting a lot? Do they sense your desire for understanding?) This will allow you to continually improve your listening skills.


When we choose to reveal, we are choosing trust. When we choose to conceal we are choosing control. When we foster a workplace in which you speak and listen candidly, you create a safe environment free from distortions. You, as a team, can see reality clearer and connect rather than withdraw from each other. The more we integrate candor into our workplace, the more transparent and engaged everyone becomes. Being honest is as hard as you would expect, but totally worth the effort every day!

Managing JIRA at Scale White Paper

TAGS: Culture

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