• Elizabeth Hockmeyer-Williams

Radical Honesty

Radical honesty isn't a term that I created. Many before me have used it and many after me will continue to talk about this concept. There is a fantastic TED talk about how a CEO uses this and integrates it with fascinating real-time technology that allows every employee in the company to offer direct real-time feedback to their superiors (all the way up to the top) no matter their position. It's a very interesting concept. Click Here to watch the talk.

Maybe a dangerous concept. Interesting right? How can an idea of radical honesty somehow be dangerous? How can honesty itself be dangerous? But it is true. In our personal and professional lives, we all struggle with honesty. In the professional world it is supposed to be different. There is supposed to be some sort of metric that allows for everyone to be treated fairly and have a voice. That through procedures they "make" honesty happen. I also don't believe that works. Either honesty is a core value, or it isn't. It cannot be both or it is nothing.

I believe that there are organizations that do an excellent job at making their companies culture a real part of their mission and they live by that in their real world actions but places like that can be hard to find. In many companies, honesty of any kind is met with resistance. Resistance that is overt, resistance that is subversive, and just plain resistance.


I believe that radical honesty among a team, under the right leadership, and with the right chain of command can allow for rapid and aggressive growth by harnessing every single team member as an asset and helping them all move in the same direction by giving each person permission to be honest about what works and what doesn't.

All of this sounds good, right? Except where is the practical application? How did I practice radical honesty in my daily operations with up to 80 team members under my command?

  1. I wrote our Vision, Mission, and Values and I made each manager learn them by heart.

  2. Our "VMV" (Vision, Mission, Values) became our guiding light. Our north star, by defining those clearly, I was able to empower my team to make decisions in the field without my direct supervision that would align with my vision. I did this by simply telling them what I wanted.

  3. Clear communication. That means that in the team I ran anyone had the opportunity to bring an issue or concern to me. Even if their direct manager was unwilling to bring the concern. Sometimes that person was right, and the manager was wrong and that gave all of us an opportunity to learn together.

  4. Every single person was empowered to raise their hand and ask for help without fearing repercussions. By giving my team permission to make mistakes and ask for help they made fewer mistakes, told me about the ones they did, and asked for help when they were overwhelmed. They trusted me because I trusted them.

  5. Be Kind.

Radical honesty can help organizations vault forward and make huge strides with limited resources by focusing on one another strengths rather than weaknesses. We are all the weakest link at some point - recognize that and be kind to the person when they need help because someday that will be you.


Now - all of this sounds like hearts and flowers and rainbows. It's not. It's hard and makes for some difficult conversations. It sometimes requires team members who are no longer a good fit to move on and sometimes organizations who won't ever be ready will fail. Radical honesty is like everything else in life. Good and bad. It's up to the leader to tip the scales in the right direction.


Thoughts with E