A woman showing care for a man at work in front of a window.

Do people pleasers make good leaders? How can you appropriately balance candor and care with those you lead?

A common misconception is that, to be a good leader, you must please everyone and get them on board with your plans and ideas. John C. Maxwell says that you should focus on what makes people better, not what makes them happy. This means balancing candor and care.

Continue reading to learn about this candor/care approach to leadership.

Candor vs. Care in Leadership

Maxwell argues that effective leadership is about pushing people to reach their potential, which occasionally means making difficult decisions that might not please everyone. This can be hard because we like hearing affirmation and knowing that everyone is happy with our decisions. 

To guide others to become their best, you must balance candor with care. Maxwell writes that leaders tend to either be too caring or too candid. If you’re too caring, you won’t initiate difficult conversations to help people grow. If you’re too candid, you’ll fail to connect with others because you’ll seem unsympathetic. To balance the two, have a genuine interest in what’s best for the other person. With this candor/care approach, you can be supportive but also willing to challenge people to improve.

(Shortform note: What does it mean to be both caring and candid? Kim Scott calls this approach radical candor. In her book Radical Candor, she explains that it has two components: caring and challenging. She defines caring as seeing beyond people’s roles as employees and caring about each as a person. You do this by learning about their motivations and ambitions and taking an interest in their lives outside of work. Scott defines challenging as having tough but important conversations with your employees to help them reach their full potential. She explains that practicing radical candor helps you avoid problems, build trust, and give your employees opportunities to grow.)

Maxwell suggests several ways you can help others to be better through the candor/care approach:

1. Overcome personal discomfort. Many leaders shy away from making challenging decisions because it makes them uncomfortable. To prevent this, ask yourself three questions in the following order to help you prioritize organizational and team well-being over personal ease:

  • What’s beneficial for the organization?
  • What’s beneficial for team members?
  • What’s best for me?

This way, you’ll make decisions based on what’s best for others instead of on what’s easiest or most comfortable for you.

(Shortform note: A common decision leaders struggle with is whether they should bring up issues with others—such as a team member who isn’t meeting expectations. The authors of Crucial Accountability argue that avoiding these conversations can worsen issues and damage relationships, yet leaders often do so because they overestimate the negative impact of speaking up and underestimate the negatives of staying silent. To make better decisions, the authors suggest you consider both your intent in speaking up and the potential consequences. Doing so in addition to Maxwell’s three questions may help you overcome any overblown fears and make hard decisions easier.)

2. Set clear expectations. Have a conversation with each team member to establish expectations from the outset. Start by asking the other person what they expect and then communicate your own expectations. This allows you to avoid assumptions, unmet expectations, and undesirable surprises.

(Shortform note: To unlock each team member’s highest potential, set high, yet achievable expectations for them. In Give and Take, Adam Grant explains that having higher expectations leads to improved performance—a psychological phenomenon known as the Pygmalion effect. This effect occurs because you treat people differently depending on your expectations. If you have high expectations, you communicate more warmly, give people more opportunities to succeed, provide more advice and feedback, and attribute failures to the task and not the person. People respond positively, working harder and producing better results.)

3. Use the 25-50-25 principle to stop chasing consensus. Maxwell writes that, when you make any decision, 25% of people will support it, 50% will be undecided, and 25% will resist it. Instead of worrying about how to get everyone in agreement, concentrate on turning the undecided section into supporters, and don’t waste time trying to win over the resisters.

(Shortform note: Delaying decisions to achieve consensus can erode others’ confidence in you. In Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin argue that leaders must be decisive so that your team trusts in your ability to lead. They suggest you become comfortable making imperfect decisions instead of making no decision at all.)

The Candor/Care Approach to Leadership (John C. Maxwell)

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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