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Candor or Candy?

It is said that you only get one first impression. I don’t think anyone disputes that fact. But what does that really mean? It means that at the onset of any relationship or encounter, the feelings that both parties walk away with leave a lasting impression, which is either good or bad. Impressive or not so impressive, you either get off or one the right or wrong foot. You hobble away, or walk off with a spring in your step.

My brother-in-law, George Madden, a great Realtor in the Cincinnati area (actually voted the best Realtor in the city a year or so ago), once told me something I’ve never forgotten. It came from years of experience as a school teacher, prior to becoming a Realtor. Every year as a new class met with him for the very first time, he knew exactly how to approach that class.

That very first day in the classroom, while he still had that precious opportunity to make the right first impression, he came on strong and candidly told the class precisely what was expected. He wasn’t there to win a popularity contest; he had a job to do. The job: input into every member of that classroom what was intended in the curriculum, and have them ultimately leave his class well prepared for both life and their future education.

Get Tough

Though he wasn’t overly stern, he did lay down the law. He was firm but fair, which is exactly what you need to be. Why? The answer is simple: It’s in everybody’s best interest to do so, both teacher and pupil. To take it a step further, I’ll interject for the sake of relevance, both employer and employee. We can talk more about that later; I just wanted to put that out there so some of you would begin to recognize the relevance as well as the application to the business world.

Although I’ll attempt to quote him, I’m sure it will just be a paraphrase echoing somewhere in my 60-year-old brain. He said, “It’s a lot easier to come on strong and lighten up later once you’ve achieved the necessary control of the classroom, than it is to come off soft, baby your way into the semester and then attempt—likely unsuccessfully—to gain control later. Candor was better than candy.

Think about it; it’s absolutely true. Getting tough later is a lot harder if they don’t expect it, after they’ve learned to expect you to serve candy every day. Use that approach right away and it will be easy to lighten up later, and the lasting impression will be that you were a good teacher and you took your job seriously and intended to do it regardless of how much anyone likes it. Give them the bitter before the sweet and hope you can work your way into the students’ sweet spot of respect, then you can take them where you want and they need to go. Get their respect for sure and hope the environment will be such that ultimately you will be both respected and admired—even liked.

“Yes, I’m sure he had tried the Mr. Nice Guy approach, but he had learned over time that it simply wasn’t the best approach. He was doing both himself and his students a big favor by making the right first impression. Candor was better than candy!

New Hires Tend to Want Candy. Give Them Candor.

Candor, according to Jack Welsh, considered the manager of the century, is a small but giant man who led GE for many, many years—and quite successfully I might add, said this: “Candor is the highest form of communication.”

Be point-blank from the start—zero BS! Provide clear job descriptions, policy, SOP, compensation, benefits, opportunity and so on on Day 1. Do it right from the get-go. It’s a silver bullet that when placed squarely on the target, prevents most problems with employees. You don’t want to be a jerk, but you do want new hires (first impressions) dead on with your expectations.

They have to know what you will and won’t tolerate. Set the standards high, where they belong. Follow up with a similar approach during employee reviews, and let them know that you as a business person expect them to do business and do it exceptionally. Then continue by modeling that and leading by example in every interaction. If you do so consistently you’ll have plenty of opportunity later to offer all the candy anyone could ever want. In the meanwhile, remember that candor is better than candy.

Doug Bellamy is president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif., where he is known for his proactive, innovative approach to our changing industry, and use of modern technology and cutting edge products and services.

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