Brutal Honesty

Does brutal honesty still work as a management style these days?  In the 8 May 2016 Corner Office (one of my favorite sections) in the NY Times, Jimmy Dunne III, managing principal of Sandler O’Neill & Partners, says he always delivers truth in the moment (meaning in the moment, in public) without Novocain.

I’ve been publicly dressed down as a first year associate in a law firm to the level of being asked if I got my law degree in a bubble gum machine in front of the entire office. I can’t say that motivated me to do better work for that managing partner, but it did motivate me to find my way out and into a better environment. It made me look at management styles and promise to never be that manager. Now brutal honesty doesn’t always have to mean being brutal and degrading but once it’s done in public it takes on a different tenor and the slightest nuanced phrase or sarcastic statement could be viewed that way and be incredibly demotivating.

In the age of the millennials, can brutal honesty be expressed?  I’ve been re-watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix recently and it’s a show that’s so honest it hurts. Coach Taylor lays it all out on the field to get the kids to strive for excellence in life and football and his wife does the same in the guidance counselor’s office trying to get students to push for what they don’t think they can do…but those are different times and a different place then the work environment aren’t they?  Can we be that truthful with the generation that has gotten participation trophies and told they are great at everything they do?

If I’m being brutally honest, I think we have to be; but we don’t have to do it in public to people like Jimmy Dunne III. I’m not saying there is never a time to do that; however, I don’t see it being the motivational push most of us need, especially the millennials.

Honesty is supposed to encourage and motivate, not alienate. This type of open and honest communication has to come from the top of the organization. They need to be willing to invite honest feedback themselves in order for this culture to be cultivated. Knowing where you stand and how you are viewed is critical to self-assessment and goal setting and actually goes hand-in-hand with the millennials need for constant feedback.

Let’s find the balance of brutal honesty without the brutality.