Candor Needed by James O’Toole & Warren Bennis

An excerpt from an excellent article on the importance of candor:

NASA researchers had placed existing cockpit crews—pilot, copilot, navigator—in flight simulators and tested them to see how they would respond during the crucial 30 to 45 seconds between the first sign of a potential accident and the moment it would occur. The stereotypical take-charge “flyboy” pilots, who acted immediately on their gut instincts, made the wrong decisions far more often than the more open, inclusive pilots who said to their crews, in effect, “We’ve got a problem. How do you read it?” before choosing a course of action.

At one level, the lesson of the NASA findings is simple: Leaders are far likelier to make mistakes when they act on too little information than when they wait to learn more. But Blake and Mouton went deeper, demonstrating that the pilots’ habitual style of interacting with their crews determined whether crew members would provide them with essential information during an in-air crisis. The pilots who’d made the right choices routinely had open exchanges with their crew members. The study also showed that crew members who had regularly worked with the “decisive” pilots were unwilling to intervene—even when they had information that might save the plane.

That kind of silence has a tremendous price. In his recent book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell reviewed data from numerous airline accidents. “The kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication,” he concluded. “One pilot knows something important and somehow doesn’t tell the other pilot.” Hence, in an emergency pilots need to “communicate not just in the sense of issuing commands but also in the sense of…sharing information in the clearest and most transparent manner possible.”

Transparency problems don’t always involve a leader who won’t listen to followers (or followers who won’t speak up). They also arise when members of a team suffer from groupthink—they don’t know how to disagree with one another.

This second type of problem has been written about a lot, but we’re sorry to report that from what we’ve observed, it’s very much alive in the executive meeting rooms of large corporations. Shared values and assumptions play a positive and necessary role in holding any group together. But when a team of senior managers suffer from collective denial and self-deception—when they can’t unearth and question their shared assumptions—they can’t innovate or make course corrections effectively. That often leads to business and ethical disasters.

Read the rest here: