Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Leadership: Candor Versus Tact

Volume: April 2016

To say this year’s Presidential race is polarizing, entertaining, and a bit scary is perhaps an understatement. Candidates on both sides of the aisle have shared soundbites that have impassioned and enraged their voting constituents. One candidate in particular has uttered comments that have caused foreign governments to ban him from travelling there. That candidate’s unfiltered candor, coupled with a lack of tact, has created a level of distaste that may prove problematic for his campaign and his Presidential aspirations. This brings us to leadership. Specifically, the leadership attribute of professional communication. At the very least, the current Presidential race should encourage leaders to pause and assess their communication style. During that assessment, take stock of your level of candor, as well as your ability to be tactful. These abilities are examined below.

Candor. In a politically correct world, candor is a breath of fresh air. The authenticity that comes with candor can create respect, as well as a strong bond. When candor is unfiltered though, problems may result. Consider Mr. Trump’s candid comment regarding “building a wall between the United States and Mexico.” He may believe this is a good idea. He was authentic when delivering the statement. However, the comment lacked tact and offended a large swath of potential voters. Another example from this Presidential race was when Mr. Sanders touted that he was a “Socialist Democrat.” While candid and authentic, a tactful sensibility was missing that threw capitalists around the globe into a tizzy. 

Lesson for Leaders: Candor is a wonderful thing. It shows an authenticity that is meaningful. Too much candor, however, can place a leader in choppy waters that does not allow for backtracking. Be strategic with your candor, and make certain it is shared with the appropriate audience.

Tact. It takes intelligence and self-control to be tactful. The tactful leader must both position their message so that it will be understood, yet deliver it in a manner that is non-offensive. What a wonderful skill to be tactful. Leaders who are overly tactful, however, frequently come across as not taking a stand. It is difficult to discern what they truly believe. Consider Mrs. Clinton. She strives for tact during her voter rallies. In the process, she alters her message to placate the crowd. While appearing tactful to each crowd, she sometimes colors herself gray with regard to what she really believes.

Lesson for Leaders: There is a time and a place for tact. Which is most of the time. However, if you never waver from tact, you will never appear to possess command. You will appear neutral and unauthentic. Use your self-control, but look for moments to take a strong stand.

Bottom Line: Candor and tact are not opposites! They can be used simultaneously. In fact, one without the other will cause us to be imbalanced. Leaders who share too much candor may be perceived as bombastic and irrational. While well meaning, and energizing for some, they rarely endear themselves to the broader team and are unable to establish well-tenured employees. Alternatively, leaders who are too tactful can come across as plastic and indecisive. Seek to be authentic, but in the process use your self-control and be strategic. Business communication is difficult. Leaders are always under the microscope. We need to be at the top of our game at all times. But then again, you are at the top of your game. Bravo! Keep at it and go inspire your team.

Until next time, be well.

Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, and strategic planner. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching, strategic planning, or to have Doug speak at your next event, visit www.leadershipsimplified.com or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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