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paul stallard's pr blog

How honest are you?

Written by Paul Stallard

Yesterday I attended a talk on leadership from the fascinating Charlie Wilson of Bosideon Consulting at the peer to peer networking group MD2MD. Charlie is a former commander of the Royal Navy and at one stage lead 13 ships and 750 people during the Iraqi conflict. An inspirational guy.

The thing that really stuck with me was a story about when he contacted the captain of each of his ships and asked them “what is going wrong on this ship?” He wanted (and needed) to know what problems they were having so they could be solved, but also to know that he could trust that colleague.

If they said nothing, he instantly boarded the ship with an inspection team. In his words, there is always something that could be better or needs fixing. If someone says otherwise, they are not being honest.

The same applies to business. It is vital to install a culture where it is acceptable to be honest about things that have gone wrong.

If something has gone wrong and the account leader doesn’t feel comfortable telling their line manager for fear of reprisals, you are in trouble. In the PR world there is no quicker way to lose a client from my experience. When a campaign doesn’t quite go to plan, or you get a piece of negative feedback from a client it is essential the senior team hear about it. There may be a simple thing that they can do to help but more than anything senior teams don’t like surprises.

For this to happen the culture of the company has to be one that embraces bad news. I’m not saying that you should accept it but you should have a culture that allows the person delivering the news to feel comfortable doing so. The person receiving the bad news also needs to be aware of how they respond and what the potential fallout is.

All too often I hear about someone hiding bad news which has turned a mole hill into a mountain of a problem because of their fear for what the boss will say. Likewise, I have also watched bosses hear about bad news and instantly say, take the account from them or what the hell are they doing? This type of emotional response doesn’t encourage honesty or loyalty.

Honesty is essential in a business and is a two way cultural issue that all businesses need to consider.