The importance of honesty for your work, your team and yourself

As we continue to explore the relationship between creativity and some of our base emotions we move on to one of the most difficult for your work, your team and yourself – honesty. In this episode, we will look at honesty vs. candor, how to apply it, and deep dive into it in your career, your personal life, your work and yourself.

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It also seemed appropriate as many of you have probably just made a list of New Year’s resolutions that we talk about honesty and we all seem to instantly struggle with those lists and how honest we are about keeping them. Last year we talked about fear, frustration, happiness, and empathy. They were hard shows to do since they required me to be honest and vulnerable about both of those topics. But those shows left me knowing would be one at least more of these big topics that we would need to discuss – honesty. I think this is one of the most influential and one of the most difficult of all the emotions we will talk about. I have struggled with this my entire career with my work, my leadership and myself.

Is honesty the right word?

Before we even start talking about honesty I had to ask myself if it was even the right word to use? When you think about it, we all say that we need to be more honest or feel like we need to be more honest. Honest means that we are completely transparent and we tell the entire truth. Complete honesty is about moral rightness – and we aren’t talking about morals here. Thats because complete honesty is rarely the productive or constructive thing to do personally or professionally. I spent some time think about what was the right word is honesty wasn’t it.

Honesty vs. candor

I was re-reading one of my favorite books and it hit me what the right word was and I should have though of it a lot sooner. The book is Creativity, Inc. by Pixar founder Ed Catmull. If you haven’t read this book you need to go buy it today. Ed get this problem of honesty exactly right when instead of using the word honesty he says candor. The book spends a lot of time elaborating on the importance of candor in the daily functioning of Pixar. Everyone at Pixar is encouraged to speak their mind whenever they see a potential problem cropping up with a project.

“Candor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. That’s a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I’m not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so–to go, as I say, ‘from suck to not-suck.’”

Candor is honesty but not in a raw form. It is about combining it with courage and conviction to make it productive and constructive. Its having the strength to be honest and humanity to have courage and conviction is what we really need to talk about. That is the foundation on which all great leadership is built. It is the glue that holds all the advice I have given about leadership together. Its why I wanted to do this episode so it could be something we can talk about and it can be something you can get better control of and understand its impact.

Applying candor

Now that we have the right word there is one other over arching thing we need to talk bout before we get into the details. I’ve found that wether it is personally or professionally the trick to candor is understand when to apply it and how much to apply. These are hard things because we all need it to grow but some people love this type of feedback and some people absolutely hate it. Those reactions vary if we are talking about professionally , personally, when looking your own work or even looking at yourself. But how much, how often and transparently you apply these are going to determine your success in every one of these situations.


Let’s start with talking about this as it applies to your professional life. I’ve found that between personally and professionally – candor is received much better and is wanted much more in a professional setting. I think this happens because people are more open to feedback, they want to grow and get better so they are looking for leadership more at work than at home. You have to start by looking at how honest are you going to be with your team because it is a fine line you have to walk. Too much honesty and you are bully or an asshole that just tells everyone what to do without caring about what they want or need. Too little of it and you are a manager who just deals in deadlines, your team doesn’t buy into your vision and you don’t help them grow in their career.

It gets even more complicated because as a leader you have to blend how you apply candor with the type message you deliver. This is important because we never talk about things like this when it is about easy subjects or small problems. We need it in the moments when leaders are born. In the moments when things are hard and people are looking to you to be the person who has a plan. In those moments your leadership has to be a blend of authority, confidence and hope. Authority that you know how you can them through the challenge they are facing. Give them confidence by letting them know that you are going to go on this journey with them and you will be there to help. Give them hope because everyone had problems, we all go through them and this just means that they are human and this is normal.


Lets change gears and talk about this as it applies to your persona life. This isn’t an area we normally go into on this show but on this subject it is an area that I’ve struggled with. I have struggled with how and when to apply it when it comes to my friends, family and even my wife. The different is that at work people seek out feedback and are more open to change. In your personal life people are more set in their ways and far less open to change and don’t like hearing things that are hard to hear. My wife openly says she could never be around “Work Steve” because he is too mean. I argue that it isn’t mean – it is honest. I do it because I think pretty much no one tells the truth about what is going on, so it is up to me to say what other people won’t.

Your work

Now lets talk about your work. How honestly you can look at and judge your work plays a HUGE factor in how good your work is going to be. Its important in two different ways. The first is that you develop your palette so you can have an honest measuring stick to judge your work again. The second is to understand that it is really easy to fall in love with your ideas and that creates a blind spot where you can’t see if they are truly good or not. This is why there is such a need for research, focus groups and prototyping to keep our work honest. In both cases you need to develop short-term memory loss so you can step back and take an honest look at your work.


Short term memory loss applies to you and your career as well. You need to be able to take a step back and look at yourself to see what it is you are good at and what you need to work on. In all the areas we talked about this one is probably the hardest to be honest. This is a critical part of being able to build your brand and then grow your brand as you move through your career. We all want to tell ourselves that we are great, we are doing a good job and want to be happy with who we are.

Final thought

On a professional level, your ability to take step back and take an honest look at your work is critical to your success.

On a personal level, being honest doesn’t take away from what you have accomplished – instead it sets the bar so you can keep pushing yourself forward.

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