While listening to the radio recently I heard a press briefing by a U.S. Military Colonel leading troops in Afghanistan; it illuminated something really powerful about people like this Colonel – truly straightforward and unequivocal candor expressed by a leader whose decisions are significantly more serious than any I will ever make. He fields the toughtest of questions with a truthfulness and passion that allows me to almost see his steely-eyed gaze through the radio. He seems to know that everyone is best served by his ability to leave no doubts about his meaning or intent.

So, what does this truth and candor thing mean to our professional lives? After 20+ years as a corporate leader and the last 8 years as a retained search consultant, I’m amazed at how much I continue to learn about myself and about relationships. Looking back on my corporate life I doubt if I fully understood what real “truth and candor” meant. There often seemed to be a certain way of saying and doing things that didn’t always start with truth or candor – do you know what I mean?

During the past 8 years of great business relationships, over 100 successful search projects, and after growing up a little bit too, the real value of truly candid conversations with clients is becoming increasingly clear to me. Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t suggest that it’s always easy. After all, this was not the way I was taught to see the business process earlier in my corporate life, so it is certainly not automatic.

One particular client relationship from my first year or two in search still sticks with me – I have never felt right about how the relationship turned out. After our initial success working together, a problem came up and the ideal solution wasn’t clear. I guess it’s inevitable that things don’t always go perfectly, but looking back now I know that the necessary relationship-ensuring conversation didn’t happen.

Research on customer service shows that clients are much more loyal when there has been a problem that has been solved than if there had never been a problem; I realize that I may have missed the opportunity to earn loyalty by turning that problem into a mutually agreeable solution.

Over the past few quarters, as my search practice has been expanding by serving new and existing clients, challenges still occasionally come up on search projects – again, that seems inevitable in complex and nuanced business situations (probably, I suppose, a lot like your own situations). However, during the past several years, those vital challenging conversations are an increasingly valued part of strong client relationships.

It is more clear than ever how powerful the right “truth and candor” consulting can really be for clients…even when it’s hard. Clients (and we all have them whether we are service providers or corporate leaders) may not expect things to be perfect – but they certainly should expect the tough conversation will happen when it matters most.

And, after all, isn’t the real stuff of a Colonel in Afghanistan something worth believing in, and couldn’t we gain some perspective from it for ourselves?Thanks for sharing time with me; as always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback and please feel free to pass this message along to others who may find value.


Jeff Black
Partner, McDermott & Bull Executive Search
Cell: (714) 356-1949 Office: (949) 753-1700 ext. 310
2 Venture, Suite 100 Irvine, CA 92618