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Honestly, It is Time We Bring Back Honesty


This week I had the great pleasure to attend a talk by Jim Hume, at Belle Isle Aquarium, for Creative Mornings Detroit. Creative Mornings is a breakfast lecture series that showcases talks on different themes each month. It is a great place to think, be challenged, connect and be inspired. Jim’s the Founder and Principal of The Phire Group, a Branding Agency located in downtown Ann Arbor, MI. With the beautiful background of the aquarium, Jim spoke on the month’s topic: Honesty.

 In his talk, Jim detailed how the advertising/marketing game has changed and that the idea of “spin” is becoming (if not already) outdated and that people are in search of a more genuine and honest connection to the products and services they are looking to consume. That is in part due to how the consumer path-to-purchase has changed, with us spending more time on peer and online reviews, instead of just taking a company’s word on why they are awesome. We no longer can be seduced by the unsubstantiated claims because we can now find out for ourselves what the truth is. The result is that advertising and marketing has been forced to become more honest and more straight forward than ever before.

 It made me think of the 1990’s movie “Crazy People” starring Dudley Moore (Arthur) and Daryl Hanna (Splash). In the movie, Moore is the Creative Director of an Advertising Agency who has a mental breakdown and decides to ditch spin and be 100% honest in his commercial messaging. His campaigns now said thing like: “Volvo: Boxy but Good” or “Metmucil: It Helps You go to the Toilet”. Due to an unfortunate accident that allows the movie plot to develop, his ads get printed and flood the market place. What happens then is that people start responding positively to the ads given their refreshingly honest take. Great movie, check it out.

What is happening today is similar to what happened in the movie. Of course we are not as extreme as the examples above, but we are more focused in what a company and product represents and not necessarily in its features and benefits. It is no longer about being the BEST, but how the product or service can relate to us as a consumer and fulfil something that is missing. It is much more of an ongoing relationship than a fire sale.

Jim also touched on how the world, especially in social media, has become a very curated place. In it, we are always trying to show the best versions of ourselves by carefully selecting pictures and posts that will create the narrative we want out in the world. The truth though is that we are not the people in our feeds. We are much more. And much less. We are a smorgasbord of messiness, failure, success, triumph, sadness, joy and fear.

As leaders we can certainly learn from the lessons laid out by Jim. When it comes to spin, leadership can claim one of the top spots in overuse. We are constantly trying to position, to carefully craft our messages, so that the people we lead can receive it appropriately. However, spending so much time in positioning can compromise the message and do what it was meant NOT to: muddle the waters. Have you ever heard of the sandwich method of giving feedback? It is when you provide constructive feedback in between two buns of positive feedback. The intent is that you soften the message by incorporating positive commentary. Although at first it may seem like a good idea, what happens is that either the constructive message is lost (remember, the last thing they hear is positive) or at the very least diminished. All because of excessive spin and positioning.

Now, I am not advocating that you ditch positioning all together. The way we say things DOES matter. What I am proposing is that we build relationships that are honest and trusting, so that spin is not necessary. If we are able to create an environment of trust, then honesty becomes much easier to deliver.

In a three year study on what makes great teams, Google found that the number one trait of successful teams was Phycological Safety. This speaks to creating an environment where people feel they can speak up and not be shut down, and that allows for mistakes to happen. Creating such an environment allows for team members to speak up and suggest new things because they know that they will not be reprimanded for screwing up. Even if they do indeed screw up. That does not mean that there are no conversations, or behavior corrections, it just means that there is trust that mistakes will be discussed and learned from, not punished.

Now if that is the kind of environment you create, it will allow you to be much more honest as a leader. The people you lead will be much more receptive to an honest conversation because they feel safe. The result is that you will be much more comfortable being truthful about performance, which will lead to better conversations, and better results. There will no longer be the need for a curated professional career, because trust will lead the way for honest and meaningful conversations.

My hope is that if we do this, we create an environment where we allow our team members to be as honest as possible with us. In turn it will allow us to be as honest as possible with them. And we will not be labeled “Crazy People” for it.

 Andre Mello is a Business Coach and might have re-watched Crazy People after writing this blog, which led to having the “hello song” stuck in his head. He has been in Marketing and Leadership for over 17 years. If you would like to connect with Andre, please visit www.wysecoaching.com.

Andre Mello