December 18, 2013

This time of year, I revisit the transition from old to new, past to future. This reflection reminds me of one of my own early lessons in candor. It helped shape the person and professional I have become, and set the foundation for my passion for candor.

I had just started a position on the leadership team for a real estate developer near Bethany Beach and was asked to come up with a wetlands plan for a new project. I crafted what I believed to be a whiz-bang plan that honored the CEO’s devotion to environmental preservation and his desire for an educational center. After I presented my plan, he was silent, which was not a good sign from the highly gregarious man.

“It seems as if you’ve been talking to Wilson,” he finally said.

I had been with the company for a month and couldn’t recall meeting anyone named Wilson. The CEO was a movie buff, and he was referencing Tom Hank’s volleyball in “Castaway.” (You may remember that Tom Hank’s character is marooned alone on a deserted island following an airplane crash. He recovers a Wilson brand volleyball from the debris and relates to it as if it were human, having conversations with it regularly. Of course, he names it “Wilson.”)

Here’s how the CEO went on to explain himself:

“I told you I had a vision for this property, but instead of talking to me or anyone else in the company, it sounds like you had this whole conversation in your head. You don’t have to talk to Wilson. We’re all here to work with you.”

In my first project during my first month with the company, it would have been OK to acknowledge that I wasn’t the expert. He wasn’t looking for what I knew, but how well I could collaborate with others. In that moment, I realized my success with the company would come from teamwork and soliciting input.

The gift of his candor has helped me immensely in two ways: first, he demonstrated candor and by doing so, set the tone for open, honest, direct communication across the company. Second, he impressed upon me the importance of engagement – that as a group, we are collectively more successful than we are working independently.

I am grateful to him for that, among so many other things. And, as the year draws to a close, sharing gifts and gratitude seems to be especially appropriate. I’m signing off until after the New Year… wishing you the resolve to find your gift of candor and to pass it along.