The need for courageous communication

OldStoryImageI recently returned from Canada where I delivered several speeches and had the opportunity to spend some time with the fantastic folks at, a consulting firm that, like mine, focuses on helping businesses be more successful.

In our discussions, I realized we are seeing a lot of the same sort of issues with our clients, but one stands out: Many organizations are struggling with a lack of open, honest, robust and most importantly “courageous communication.”

If you had asked me five years ago what the number one issue my clients were dealing with, I would’ve told you that it was lack of a clear, well-communicated vision. Today however, the number one challenge is helping leaders to be more courageous in their communication. To me, there are four major things that a great leader must do to be a courageous communicator.


A courageous leader is not afraid to be vulnerable, to say that they don’t know, that they are confused, that they need help. Asking for help and being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness; it actually gives you strength beyond measure.

Tough Conversations.

It is the role of the leader to be courageous in holding people accountable for delivering results and meeting the standards of the organization—without ever becoming ruthless about it. Most leaders have a very hard time engaging in a difficult discussion about lack of performance. Trust me, avoiding these sorts of awkward conversations does not do any favors for employees who are struggling. People deserve to know that their performance is not where it needs to be and they deserve clear direction about what they need to do to improve their results and retain their jobs. This reminds me of one of my favorite Jack Welch quotes: “I never fired anybody who was surprised.”

Discussing the Un-discussable.

It still amazes me how often I encounter companies with very serious problems that everyone knows are costly and significant, and yet no one is willing to put the issue on the agenda. When a business has a huge problem, it is up to the leader to be courageous and lead an honest and transparent conversation about the problem. The leader should start a dialogue about how to deal with it and fix it… immediately.

Listening, even when it hurts.

A great leader creates an atmosphere where people are not afraid to share even the worst news immediately, knowing that the focus will be on fixing the problem—not fixing blame. Courageous communicators make it 100 percent safe for people to bring them bad news because they realize if there is even the slightest chance that the messenger will get killed, communication of any sort of negative feedback or unhappy news will come to a complete halt.

In the last year I have delivered nearly 100 speeches and workshops to companies from every conceivable industry. Some had a handful of employees, some more than 100,000 employees, and I can tell you that the most common issue that all of these organizations struggle with is learning to be more open, honest, transparent and courageous in their communications. Hopefully the list I have just provided you will help you foster significantly better communications within your company.

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