Candor is King


Jack came home this week frustrated with the environment in his classroom.  Some students were lagging behind, the classroom had become too social, and so his teacher had cracked down.  Jack felt the freedom at the heart of the Montessori system was being squeezed out.  It was unfair, he said for everyone to feel the crackdown, and he also thought the teacher would get more with carrots than with punitive sticks.  So, Jack announced to me that he had asked for and been promised a meeting with his teacher and the principal.  As parents we admired the little man’s gumption, and we were amused by the birth of this righteous spirit.

Most of all, I was blown away (again) by the school’s culture.  They flat-out welcomed dissent! In many “normal” schools, this is not how the dissent would have been managed.  The easiest thing (as with businesses) would be to just not take the kid seriously.  After all, he’s ten and culture is the domain of adults (supervisors).  If he persisted, the school could – and could have in this case – shift the focus to the student’s failings.  In this case, the school saw Jack’s dissent as a wonderful opportunity to teach and learn about culture, about how groups balance freedom and responsibility, about the tough choices of those in authority, and about Jack’s own role.  He left feeling heard, and no doubt spreading the word throughout the already positive culture that it was okay to raise issues with the authorities.

Imagine the workplaces we would have if more of our schools created such learning cultures!  Imagine the lawsuits avoided at work!  Imagine the shared learning if people were more open to understanding the diverse perspectives of work.  Where Jack was welcomed to dissent, I find that people come to me to find an end run when they feel they have not been heard.*  And when I raise their issues I sometimes end up being the “shot at messenger,” who is really just trying to invite people to listen and engage, instead of feeling like they are being attacked.

There are tens of studies that have demonstrated that openness and candor in the workplace – especially in the 21st century economy – promote innovation, speed, quality, and productivity.  When it comes to cultures that generate results, candor is king.

But as a supervisor, manager, or if you’re even higher in the food chain, YOU MUST PROACTIVELY WORK to generate an atmosphere of  candor.  (Sorry for all the bolds, caps and underlines, but I’m TRYING TO SCREAM THE POINT: be proactive.  When someone has an issue, do you absolutely welcome it as an opportunity to learn and to teach, to engage and improve?  More importantly, if I asked your people this, would they say, “Totally, s/he loves it when we challenge to make things work better!”   You’ve got to work to create that kind of culture and so to

Lead with your best self!


NOTE: This Saturday on my radio show, I’ll be joined by Stephen Covey, author of perhaps the best book ever written on personal effectiveness, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (a great gift, by the way, for approaching graduations).  Listen to the show at 7 am ET through

** yes, some ARE just “whiners,” but some have important data that needs to be heard.

  • Way to go, Jack. Good for you. Good for your teacher and the principal. Good for your classmates. Bravo!

  • Dan,

    Tell Jack I love him. He reminds me of myself.
    I believe everyone has a right to be heard. If more people would be listned to there would be less grievances.
    As a school board member I beieve everyone has a right to be heard.
    Whenever something happens you seem to have the answers to my questions. I believe if I’m right God will give me the black and white information to prove it. Today proves my point.
    Tell Jack to keep up the good work.


  • Insecure people do not typically invite new ideas or dissent. In a past life I was Human Rersources V.P. for a large retail organization that had been around for over 100 years. During staff meetings I would make a point of asking my team members (particularly newer members) to question and challenge everything that we did and look at everything that we did with a fresh set of eyes every day. My point was simply “Just because we’ve always done it one way doesn’t mean we should continue to do so”. I was fortunate because my folks would really step-up and challenge themselves to find new and better ways to do many things.

    Currently I am in HR with a large library system and I recall one of my first conversations with one of our senior librarians who wanted to know how she should cover a leave of absence. I asked her how she thought she’d like to handle it; she looked shocked and said no one had ever asked her for her opinion in the past, to which I responded ” You’re the librarian, you know how to run your business better than I do”. Taking that approach and demonstrating respect for other’s ideas pays off in spades many times over.

  • Generation Y Millennials, as students and now in the workplace, have their own ideas about what leadership is…and…it’s not their father’s leadership style.

    Today’s generation of employees grew up with direct, instantaneous access to information. They will search online to verify your message, as you speak, and challenge you with any contradictory information they find–no matter who you are. They’ve been conditioned by society to respond in this way. All their lives, they’ve been bombarded with trickery in advertising, media slants and political persuasions. And they can name many top-level managers who’ve gone to prison for unethical behavior–so titles and positions don’t impress them.

    In fact, they don’t buy into any popular leadership theories because they have their own. They want leaders who they can form a relationship with and if they don’t respect and trust a leader, they won’t follow him or her. Your son, Jack, is playing out this new generational perception of leadership…which will be very good for society and industry.

  • Civil dissent should always be welcomed. I am a product of a K-12 Catholic education. We could not even have civil dissent with the good sisters.

    Today, as a man approaching 69 years of age, we are not even permitted to carry out civil dissent. A man of 80 who was wearing an anti-war shirt was put into jail. We are living under a Nazi-fascist government.

    The great Nazi Party (GOP) talks of family values. But, do you honestly believe that Hitler Bush and his Nazi cabal would be willing to listen to children’s civil dissent? Never!!! Hitler Bush is the GREAT DECIDER!!!

  • Dan, when I read your piece I thought of how I might contrast the freedom of dissent at Jack’s school with the Bush administration.
    Then I read the great response by Gerald S. He said it all-there’s nothing left to say.

  • Jack,

    I hope your mother lets you know that in her position that the others in her organization are not always supportive of dissent, and that others in state government create dissent for unproductive reasons. Montessori Schools teach the way some things should be, not the way things are.

    I have many times gotten into trouble when I let my thoughts be known. Boldness in expressing a person’s thoughts is a good trait. Understanding that the world does not run like your school is also a good thing to learn.


  • I have to respond to Jim Delaney’s simple but impactful statement above: “Insecure people do not typically invite new ideas or dissent.” If Jim’s statement applies to any of us in our workplace, it should prompt us to question whether we want to stay there, or to determine what we can do to change it. And if it does apply to our government, we should have the courage that Jack had, and try to change that, too … vote, contribute a few dollars for the candidate of your choice, and work for change. Or as a group of our countrymen once said, “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends (of achieving life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.”

  • This article reminds me of “The Paradoxical Commandments” (you can find them at, and one of them in particular, which is: “Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.” What this means is that honesty, frankness (and yes, dissent) will not always be welcomed with open arms and minds, as in your son’s school, but this should not prevent us from being honest, frank and dissenting anyway. That being said, there is a certain finesse your son exhibited in his dissenting which should be be overlooked. His dissenting behavior invited others to respond rather than react, and that it the mark of a true leader.

  • One of the best gifts of teaching is watching children develop and act on their sense of fairness and justice. To be a part of guiding children as they learn to resolve conflicts, recognize the strenghts and weaknesses of other people and try to develop their best self is an awesomwe thing to behold.

    My K-8 grade elementary school has adopted a program called Second Step to help facilitate communication and problem solving skills in the classroom. We have weekly class meetings with the students to discuss things. Students contribute to the meeting agenda and can also request a meeting if need be. Some people have voiced concern because they think this process gives the students more power than children should have! In practice, this porgram gives everyone tools to build good communication and problem solving skills in school culture that fosters a culture of respect for everyone.

  • We definately need these kind of teachings within our school systems. Dealing with dissent/diversity and being proactive is going to be a key for our future leaders.
    It would also be a great idea to have teachings such as in Steven Covey’s book taught in our schools. The book is fabulous and would definately be a great gift.

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